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Future of shipping

Shipping has always been evolving and like any other sector of the global economy, also shipping is entering a new era. What are the trends that are shaping the future of shipping? Find out what’s driving this transition.

Reducing CO2 - The 4th Propulsion Revolution

Throughout centuries, water has been the cheapest and often the only way to transport goods over long distances. It has also been the safest way to transport goods. New inventions have rendered old ones obsolete while ships have increased in speed and size. In the 19th century steam propulsion re-placed sail and shipping changed over from coal to oil in the 20th century. Today, the industry is on the brink of a fourth propulsion revolution to reach the IMO target of halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 regardless of trade growth. Moreover, the ultimate goal is full decarbonization.

Energy efficiency has been given the top priority for many years as shipowners and crew have focused on optimal speed, route, trim, and schedules. Ship designers and builders have made efforts to optimise hull lines. Onboard ships, from the engine room up to the bridge, high-efficiency choices have been made to achieve the lowest specific fuel consumption possible. 

Target: a carbon neutral future - New promising fuels

There is still room for vessels to improve their efficiency. It is evident that the reduction target cannot be achieved with fossil fuels. Liquefied natural gas, LNG, has been a viable alternative for some ships on the decarbonization pathway. Hydrogen, ammonia and bio-methanol have been identified as promising fuels in the long run. 

However, transition means that all players in the maritime sector, such as engine manufacturers, fuel suppliers and policymakers, face challenges. A shipowner needs to be confident that the chosen fuel type is globally available and bunkering infrastructure exists. Safety and fuel-storage systems on vessels are also a concern for some fuels. Finally, a robust regulatory framework must in place. 

Big Data in Cloud - Maritime transport embarks on a digital journey

Traditionally shipping has relied on manual data collection and written documentation. Paper charts have been used for routeing and data has been entered into logbooks and other record books manually. Companies have relied on look-back information instead of predictive analysis. Many industry players have relied on traditional ways of managing paperwork and of making phone calls.

Alarm, control and monitoring systems on the bridge and in the engine room have become increasingly automatic and integrated. ‘Big Data’ and ECDIS* began the digital transformation. Big Data does not only refer to large volumes of data, but it is also time-sensitive data on weather, traffic delays, and unexpected repairs, to name a few, which can help to forecast or avoid problems, like unplanned stoppages. 
Today, the volume of data available is daunting, but it is useless unless it is turned into meaningful information that can be applied. With cloud-based technologies, real-time data is collected on site, onboard the ship, but data is accessible ashore and creates opportunities, like condition-based maintenance of equipment and tracking of vessels and cargo units. It is not likely that machinery will fail in service when it runs in optimum condition and problems can be identified and rectified at an early stage.

Digitalisation is about change in human behaviour when people are moving into the role of supervisors. Maritime work, including engine maintenance, cargo handling and navigation techniques, will ride on the digital wave. However, many security, safety and regulatory challenges must be addressed as digitalisation exposes systems for external threats, like cyber security attacks. All this leads to …

… a request for new competencies - Human intelligence cannot be replaced

The STCW Convention and Code (International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) ensures an up-to-date and internationally harmonised rules for the training of seafarers. The first STCW Convention entered into force in 1984 and it has been amended several times as vessels and equipment have evolved. Once again, the Convention is being reviewed to identify gaps and loopholes.

More complex digital and sustainable technologies require new competencies for seafarers who must upgrade their skills to be able to use and in-teract with high-tech applications. Still, in spite of digital transformation, human intelligence cannot be replaced. If and when technology fails, experi-ence and skills to fix things is of great value.

* ECDIS = Electronic Chart Display and Information System