Digitalization set to revolutionize shipping – new United Nations report

Technological advances including artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, blockchain applications, autonomous ships, drones and others have the potential to boost efficiency in the global shipping industry, says the 2018 edition of UNCTAD’s Review of Maritime Transport.

Geneva, Switzerland, (03 October 2018)

​Technological advances including artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, blockchain applications, autonomous ships, drones and others have the potential to boost efficiency in the global shipping industry, says the 2018 edition of UNCTAD’s Review of Maritime Transport.

Since growth in demand for seaborne trade is running ahead of supply, according to the latest data in the report, new technologies could introduce much-needed cost, time and environmental efficiencies.

“Digitalization has the potential to add wind to the sails of global seaborne trade, if leveraged effectively,” UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi said launching the report, which this year celebrates 50 years since it was first published in 1968.

Many current blockchain technology initiatives and partnerships can be used for tracking cargo and providing end-to end supply chain visibility, the report says. The technology can also be used for recording information on vessels, including on global risks and exposures, integrating smart contracts and marine insurance policies, and digitizing and automating paper filings and documents. 

“Vessels and their cargo are becoming part of the Internet of Things by combining on-board systems and digital platforms. Developing countries will have to ensure that both, their IT and their transport systems, are prepared to connect to global logistics networks,” Shamika N. Sirimanne, Director of the UNCTAD’s Division on Technology and Logistics, said.

Many technological advances are applicable in ports and terminals and offer an opportunity for port stakeholders to innovate and generate additional value in the form of greater efficiency, enhanced productivity, greater safety, and heightened environmental protection. Concretely, digitalization can improve data availability to track and measure port performance for improved decision-making and planning. It can also improve efficiency, enhance productivity and increase the safety and environmental performance of ports. 

In the light of these developments, the report says, ports and terminals worldwide need to re-evaluate their role in global maritime logistics and prepare to effectively embrace and leverage digitalization-driven innovations and technologies. 

But a key challenge will be to establish interoperability so that data can be exchanged seamlessly, while ensuring at the same time cybersecurity and the protection of commercially sensitive as well as private data, including in view of the recent European Union General Data Protection Regulation. 

As for autonomous ships, in addition to safety, security, and cybersecurity concerns, fears may arise for the jobs of seafarers, the majority of whom come from developing countries, the report says.

Source: United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

Illustration Photo: Automated electric rates unload shipping containers onto autonomous guided, electric vehicles at the Long Beach Container Terminal (LBTC) facility in Long Beach, CA. (credits: DENNIS SCHROEDER / NREL / Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))

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