Humanity has always wanted to advance, and one way is by  digitalisation. To understand immediately the effectiveness of this, see below a quick picture summary of developments in communication.

This shows various stages in the technological evolution of that, and though most are now obsolete each retains its legacy and memories. But we must remember that if we keep harking back to the old methods we risk blunting development and getting left behind. Also, any process of advancement repays its cost, effort and time in greater efficiency, hence a win-win situation for sellers and customers.

This is true for a large number of vertically integrated businesses – those that are streamlined such that the company itself takes control, rather than relying on external providers.

Generally speaking, shipping is one such, but in my view it lags behind many other verticals in digitalisation, and there is plenty of scope for advancement in this area.

Shipping is all about moving things from one location to another across the open ocean, and the question is how effectively, precisely and cost-effectively that can be done, and certainly without any accidents or injuries and without harming the environment. To best achieve all this, we need huge input from machinery of various types, and a large number of (often quite literally) moving parts have to be monitored precisely and on a real-time basis, so that we can avoid errors and other adverse situations. Nowadays, all this can sensibly be achieved only by digitalising the entire maritime sector, and nations, companies or seafarers who seek to avoid the ongoing  transformation will (to use an old phrase) miss the train in developing, using and further perfecting sustained, digital technology.

There are, still, objectors, such as the veterans who say that digitalisation has killed the basic engineering skill of identifying the problem with five senses. It may be true that the five human senses have been relegated a little, but digitalisation has also brought in around 500 other senses by which every aspect of machinery can be continually monitored, with timely action thus being taken to maximise output and reduce environmental impact and cost. This would simply not be possible without digitalising shipping.

Climate change and its worrying implications mean regulations that progressively and rightly force us to reduce carbon emissions. So, to achieve targeted lessening of greenhouse gases, researchers and manufacturers are for example looking into alternative fuels, and in some places even the use of nuclear reactors is being considered. Success on all of these matters cannot happen without complete digitalisation of ships.

The IMO has approved implementing digitalisation of the maritime sector via “single window” systems, and is encouraging its member countries towards complete digitalisation of ports and terminals. Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS), which operate without human interaction, have already completed their testing phase and are operational in certain limited areas. Furthermore, IMO classification and regulations make it clear that these are becoming a commercial reality. 

The required level of digitalisation of vessels, and also of the ports and terminals that they use, will not be possible without a multi-layer and multi-partnership approach, by which all global entities are involved, with each playing its part in balancing the digital eco-cycle of the maritime sector, and involving robust cyber security and constant vigilance in order to protect the sector against new types of crime and criminals.

There are difficulties, but there is also excitement, ahead. 

Global geopolitics permitting, I consider that it is certain that most worldwide shipping can be digitalised by 2050, and I set above my own road map for that.

Chief Engineer Parthasarathy Mani – “ADRIATIC ENERGY”