Seamless ship-to-shore connections

Just-In-Time arrivals simulation results at Port of Rotterdam showed a whole 23% decrease in fuel consumption, which also translates into a huge emission reduction.

Source: Port of Rotterdam

A connected ecosystem to receive consistently formatted uplinked updates from the ship to shore, and vice-versa, paints the latest and most complete picture for decision-making.

As soon as it becomes clear that the port will not be ready to receive a vessel at the original Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA), the Navi-Port system communicates an updated ETA to the ship’s navigation system. So, rather than spending long hauls at anchorage, ships adjust to the new ETA by slowing down their speed. The difference: the extra voyage time at a reduced speed decreases fuel consumption, cuts down congestion at ports and anchorages, and lowers local emissions.

Communication works both ways

If the ship is behind schedule, Navi-Port updates the onshore systems so that the port communities can better organise their operations.

When the ships and the shore have better coordination and vessels arrive as per schedule, the whole hinterland logistics gets automatically streamlined.

Glimpses of JIT in action was already seen this year in June when W rtsil  and Tanger-Med Port enabled the first-ever digital port call for a Hapag-Lloyd vessel. The system exchanged the required time of arrival digitally with the onboard navigation system and allowed the ship’s speed schedule to be adjusted for a Just-in-Time (JIT) arrival by the clicking of one button, thereby saving fuel and costly waiting time at anchor.

With such better ship-to-shore coordination, vessels can immediately cut up to 15% of excess fuel consumption that is currently burnt due to long anchorage, which automatically means a significant reduction in both local and on-route emissions. In fact, an IMO-led Global Industry Alliance simulation study at the Port of Rotterdam shows that Just-In-Time arrivals at Europe’s largest port led to a whole 23% decrease in fuel consumption, which also translates into a huge emission reduction.

Smarter inland connections

Congestion issues in the supply chain go beyond port calls, which Just-intime sailing alone can’t resolve. One other major bottleneck behind all this congestion is inefficient intra-port container movements.

Even if ship-and-shore are as well coordinated as the aviation industry, if the unloading and freight-forwarding channels down the stream are not efficient, eventually the container stack will again start piling up again.

Sending a container from Shanghai to Le Havre (France) emits fewer greenhouse gases than the truck that takes the container on to Lyon.

Rose Goerge, Ninety per cent of Everything

Trucks and trains are proving to be not enough

Along with personnel shortage, overland transport alone isn’t able to absorb the emerging capacity needs for container movement within ports and the hinterlands. This backs up the traffic on the oceans. All major ports globally have numerous container terminals and yards spread over a large area. And the connection between them is sometimes just a single bridge, leading to massive traffic jams and congestion.


The EU has targets to move 25% more cargo by short sea shipping by 2030

Decongesting the cargo flow

Here, autonomous, zero-emission seaborne cargo movement will be key in removing infrastructural challenges and achieving shipping’s zero‑emission ambition. Take, for instance, short sea shipping. Since 2015 and combined with an effort to reduce ground transportation, the EU has targeted a 25 % increase in cargo transportation by short sea shipping before 2030. This also supports the decarbonisation targets as shipping is by far the greenest among mass transportation modes when compared to the energy expends of rail, road, and air. To quote Rose Goerge’s book, Ninety per cent of Everything: “Sending a container from Shanghai to Le Havre (France) emits fewer greenhouse gases than the truck that takes the container on to Lyon.”

Autonomous intra-port connectivity

Some examples of such ongoing projects initiatives can already be seen at Port of Rotterdam (the busiest port in EU); Singapore Port (world’s 2nd busiest); Tianjin Port, China (9th busiest in the world). These cases show how the unique pairing of next-gen sensor technology with automated navigation systems can resolve congestion issues safely even in the busiest ports and most complex inland waterways.

Why autonomous? Because it makes better ecological and economic sense.

The current inland fleet is very old (many vessels built in the 40s), fragmented, unreliable and polluting. Thus, freight forwarders completely ignore this mode. But if modernised, these new electric non-polluting vessels would cost more initially. To compensate and not get penalised on OPEX fleet operators would have to run more frequently (even 24/7) and also carry more cargo, which new ship designs will have to allow. One way to achieve both the above points is by adjusting crew size. An autonomous vessel can run round the clock and in all weather. Also, currently, the inland crew costs amount to one-third of operational costs. Considering skill shortage, this cost is only going up. Cutting crew size may help manage this cost much better.

The chicken and egg situation

Considering the above, creating a smart inland logistics network within the next few years seems the logical way forward. With solutions like SmartMove and Smart Sensors, short sea and inland shipping can be turned into a safer, cleaner, and more efficient link in the logistic chain, with greater accessibility to those who need it.

One may wonder if the solution to decongest and decarbonise ports are simple digital patches and smart intra-port connectivity—what’s stopping the industry from adopting it at large?

To oversimplify, it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation: ports have a greater incentive to upgrade to digital solutions if more ships have already embraced it and vice-versa. Plus, it’s not always a straight line between the port and the ship. There are other parties in the equation. Like the terminal authorities in charge of berthing or other nautical services (pilots, tugs, linesmen, etc.).

The challenge, therefore, has been:

  • to orchestrate the efforts of many different stakeholders, including jumping regulatory hoops and coordinating multiple authorities at different ports, in different countries;
  • standardisation and coordination, both in terms of technology and communication codes.

As a result, shipping has been on a buffering mode when it comes to adopting an end-to-end seamless digital ecosystem.

Impetus to evolve

Ironically, the pandemic (catalyst of this chaos) has also argued the case for digitalisation.

During the COVID-19 crisis, ports with a focus on digitalisation have gained a significant advantage over those that have not yet started the transition. Analysts are arguing how smart ports, that improve traffic visibility, is the remedy to alleviate the current crisis while preventing it from happening again.

IMO (International Maritime Organization) too finalised its Just-In-Time Arrival Guide for the industry this January. While BIMCO (Baltic and International Maritime Council) recently gave its stamp of approval to the concept by adding a new clause that encourages the sector to embrace JIT and its technology widely. Considering they are the largest international association of shipowners who control close to 65% of the world’s cargo, the move is bound to make a positive dent.

Similarly, the Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA), which consists of the nine top shipping carriers globally, published its first Just-in-Time (JIT) Port Call programme last year. This will help streamline several key JIT port call processes for the different industry players.


Decarbonisation a strong driver for the industry to digitalise faster

Regulatory deadlines and policy pressures

The IMO has been pushing the pedal on greener operations with a bunch of policies and staggered deadlines going up to the end of this century. The first is to reduce emissions per transport work—or “carbon intensity”— by at least 40% by 2030, compared to a 2008 baseline. Then, by 2050, to cut total emissions from ships to no more than half of 2008 levels—even with the subsequent growth in seaborne trade. Finally, to eliminate emissions altogether before the end of 2100. That’s the long-term plan. But the latest MEPC announcement, released in November 2020, account for interim actions that come into play as early as 2022.

These short-term measures primarily revolve around adopting two indices—the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) and Energy Efficiency Design Index for existing ships (EEXI)—based on which all vessels will be given carbon intensity rating ranging from A to E, just like cars and other vehicles are given energy-efficiency ratings.

Ships rated D or E for three consecutive years would have to submit a corrective action plan to show how they could achieve a C or higher. On the other hand, administrations, port authorities and other stakeholders will be encouraged to provide incentives to ships rated A or B.

Therefore, there’s a pressing (or even panicked) need to adjust current operations to be able to qualify in the upcoming ratings.

Thankfully, there are handy and cost-effective software plugins designed for all kinds of vessel classes, even older ships, that can take off the immediate heat.