The pandemic accelerates digital transformations in maritime logistics

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container ships ⓒpixabay

Digitalization of maritime trade is becoming a necessary step towards empowering maritime operation

Nothing in experience has prepared us to grasp a sense of what is happening next in the post corona era. Various businesses and government stakeholders interact to keep supply chains moving and economies competently functioning in seaports, which is critical to ensure the flows of vital medical and food supplies, energy streams, and other goods reach their intended destination properly in time. As port community systems operated across the world must involve physical interactions such as vessel-related service, paper-based transactions, cargo handling operation, and data exchanges, henceforward digitalization of maritime trade and logistics is called for to prevent the long-term impact of the global pandemic without halting. That is, digitalization is no longer an interesting aspect in the maritime transport sector but has become a necessary step towards empowering maritime operation.

Marin Crews ⓒ pixabay

To ensure crew resupply and repatriation, UNCTAD and IMO call for the support of Governments in an unprecedented situation where travel is curtailed and borders are closed

Concerning an international ocean-based workforce, restrictions on movement and a lack of medical attention are placing enormous strain on the physical and mental health of some 1.2 million seafarers, who are currently restricted by closed borders and quarantine regulations. Amid calls to immediate political action, the Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) jointly issued the statement which calls for collaborative action in support of keeping ships moving, ports open and cross-border trade flowing during the COVID-19 pandemic on 8 June. They reiterated calls for Governments to promote crew well-being by allowing crew changes and ensuring seafarers and other maritime personnel have access to documentation and travel options so that they can return home safely in the joint statement.

Containers ⓒpixabay

More than 80% of global trade by volume is carried by maritime transport, which is vital to sustainable development and prosperity in a deeply interconnected world

As these have shown us, COVID-19 has not just made the effective functioning of ports a critical matter of national security but reminded us of the importance of supporting key workers in the ocean-based industry for the future maritime trade. Given that the core part of globalization is maritime transport, which accounts for about 80 percent of world trade volume carried on vessels ranging from container ships to fuel tankers and dry bulkers, it is evident that seaport and shipping industry needs to accelerate the pace of digitalization to continue uninterrupted operations in line with the post-corona era.

Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship ⓒYara Birkeland

Autonomous sailing technology will improve the economy and safety of operation ships although several issues lie in the feasibility of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship (MASS)

The autonomous vessels and digitized ports have become prominent topics in the maritime industry. Autonomous vessels became a buzzword after the International Maritime Organization (IMO) selected maritime autonomous surface ship (MASS) as the term to any autonomous ship 2017. According to the Korea Institute of Marine Sciences and Technology Development (KIMST), autonomous vessels many advantages over man-driven vessels, one of which is the removal of the bridge and living quarters widening freight areas being operated with remote control. As a result of no human involvement on board, automation can cut labor costs by 90% and result in a 6% reduction of fuel and a 5% reduction in construction, bringing on higher freight income due to expanded cargo space. Moreover, autonomous vessels will optimize maintenance activities and maximize fuel utilization, consequently reducing a carbon footprint. However, there are still some issues unsolved such as an initial large capital expenditure investing in technology, intricate legal questions about how international laws will apply to unmanned ships, and the lack of the skills, knowledge, and experience professional seafarers provide.

ports ⓒpixabay

Ports will have to be smarter to manage ever-growing amounts of cargo reducing the dependency on manual work with the ramification of the pandemic sweeping around the world

The concept of “Smart Port” is another big thing in the digitalization of maritime trade. Smart ports are ones that use automation, big data, internet of things, blockchain, and artificial intelligence to improve their performance. Smart ports are expected to ensure sustainable development and guarantee safe activities transforming ports into maritime information-network hub combined with smart infrastructures and automation. With the effects of the pandemic wide-reaching across industries worldwide, ports will have to get smarter to manage ever-increasing amounts of cargo and to meet the needs of port users with a greater level of efficiency and transparency, especially reducing the dependency on manual work and increasing resiliency with high uptake in automated equipment. However, as to utilizing new technologies, the problem also follows that the more technology a port uses, the more the risk increases such as cybercrime. This will require greater understanding and increased investment in security. As the ABI study suggests, be accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as ports will need to develop new means of meeting high expected demand by trade, vessels, and customers. Another study conducted by Ocean Insights said that 42% of those in the freight industry will change their supply chain strategies as a result of the pandemic, and 67% see technology as the key to doing so.

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