COVID-19 to spur on further digitalisation for shipping industry

Ship connectivity. Credit: Getty Images

The restrictions on movement brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for increased digitalisation of the shipping industry to improve efficiency and safety, industry representatives discussed at the World Ports Conference webinar.

Ines Nastali, editor of Ports and Harbors, put forward how the shipping industry appears to be less fragmented now when it comes to digitalisation. In response to the pandemic there were joint calls to action by several industry stakeholders to facilitate data exchange.

“COVID-19 has shown there are gaps in connectivity, for example only 49 of 174 IMO members have functioning port community systems, which means there are a lot of ports out there relying on direct personal contact and paper exchange between people,” explained Nastali. “This undoubtedly increases the number of people working in port, which in times of pandemic creates a potentially dangerous situation to health and may result in ports not being able to forward cargo.”

Ley Hoon Quah, chief executive of the maritime port authority of Singapore (MPA) explained how a main aim of the MPA is to become a digital hub by promoting digital services, automation, and leaving the physical paper trail behind. “All of us are in this new normal and further digitalisation is the only way to go,” she said.

Guy Platten, secretary general International Chamber of Shipping, hopes that impetus for digitalisation will continue beyond the crisis. He stressed digitalisation is how services can be improved, adding, We are better connected now and need to keep looking at how to stay connected and I hope that momentum and dialogue continues.”

Platten sited the increased use of remote surveys during the pandemic, not only as an example of innovation but how it can minimise surveyors time onboard, to avoid infection, and help free-up seafarers’ precious time to carry out other duties.

“Digitalisation is a crucial part of shipping, without data exchange or sharing we cannot achieve the goal of autonomous shipping. We have to expand data exchange and sharing between our member states,” said Kitack Lim, secretary general, International Maritime Organization.

The webinar took place on 10 June and was jointly hosted by IHS Markit and the International Association of Ports and Harbors. The recording of the webinar is available on demand, to sign up for other World Ports Conference webinars please click here.