Report: Digitalizing maritime sector to strengthen resilience, cut emissions

Better digital collaboration between private and public entities across the maritime supply chain will result in significant efficiency gains, safer and more resilient supply chains, as well as lower emissions, a new report shows.

Entitled Accelerating Digitalization: Critical Actions to Strengthen the Resilience of the Maritime Supply Chain, the report was released by the World Bank and the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) on 21 January.

Maritime transport carries over 90 per cent of global merchandise trade, totaling some 11 billion tons of cargo per year. Digitalizing the sector would bring wide-ranging economic benefits and contribute to a stronger, more sustainable recovery, according to the report.

Illustration. Image Courtesy: Kees Torn on Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0 license

Specifically, the report describes how collaborative use of digital technology can help streamline all aspects of maritime transport, from cross-border processes and documentation to communications between ship and shore, with a special focus on ports.

As explained, a COVID-19 crisis has evidenced a key benefit of digitizing waterborne and landside operations — meeting the urgent needs to minimize human interaction and enhance the resilience of supply chains against future crises.

“In many of our client countries, inefficiencies in the maritime sector result in delays and higher logistics costs, with an adverse impact on the entire economy. Digitization gives us a unique chance to address this issue,” Makhtar Diop, World Bank Vice President for Infrastructure, pointed out.

 “Beyond immediate benefits to the maritime sector, digitalization will help countries participate more fully in the global economy, and will lead to better development outcomes.”

“The report’s short and medium term measures to accelerate digitalization have the proven potential to improve supply chain resilience and efficiency whilst addressing potential risks related to cybersecurity. However, necessary policy reform is also vital,” Patrick Verhoeven, IAPH Managing Director of Policy and Strategy, said.

Digitalization is not just a matter of technology but, more importantly, of change management, data collaboration, and political commitment,” he added.

Although the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has made it mandatory for all its member countries to exchange key data electronically (the FAL convention), a recent IAPH survey reveals that only a third of over 100 responding ports comply with that requirement. The main barriers to digitalize cited by the ports were the legal framework in their countries or regions and persuading the multiple private-public stakeholders to collaborate, not the technology.

The report analyzes numerous technologies applied already by some from the world’s leading port and maritime communities, including Big Data, the internet of things (IoT), fifth-generation technology (5G), blockchain solutions, wearable devices, unmanned aircraft systems, and other smart technology-based methods to improve performance and economic competitiveness.