Digital ships seek routes for rules

3 min read
08 Jun 2018
Anne Salomäki
Martin Stampe

The digitalisation of shipping can bring about immense advantages – but only if everyone is, even if not literally, on board. Regulators have their desks full keeping up with what’s cooking under the surface. Hear what experts have to say about the evolutionary process.

Pretty much everything in business needs to make sense in the CFO’s office. Nothing is digitalised just for the sake of digitalisation.

“Shareholders call the shots,” says Erik Tvedt, Special Adviser at the Danish Maritime Authority’s Department for Maritime Regulation and Legal Affairs. “If they say this is good business, then things are moving forward. Otherwise not.”

Digitalisation has hugely expanded the toolbox marine industry has at its disposal. Tvedt points out that new business ideas and ways of working are very welcome – as long as the well-known standards are respected.

“Of course, we expect companies to go out there and make money, but also keep a high morale,” Tvedt says. “We encourage innovativeness, but common sense needs to be in place at all times, so that the safety of people and the environment is never compromised.” 

All together now

Tvedt wishes to see a proactive approach, from the ship owners, to increasing the level of safety and environmental protection. Tamara de Gruyter, Vice President of Services – North Europe Area at Wärtsilä hopes for the same. She emphasises the importance of collaboration and partnerships across all fields and companies, including the ones that were previously seen as merely competitors.

“The future is all about co-creation,” Gruyter accentuates. “Nobody can do it alone, so we need to do it as an industry. This spells a change in mind-set, sharing and helping each other.”

Regulators and companies are both in the same boat when it comes to mapping what’s ahead in the field – or, in this case, out on the sea. Tvedt emphasises that the two work together, not against each other. When talking about innovations that are tried out for the first time, there’s no book to refer to.

“Regulators don’t live in a vacuum, so we’re very happy to talk to industry consultants,” says Tvedt. “However, if someone walks in saying ‘I don’t like that rule’ but has no suggestions as to how to improve it, there’s not much we can do. If they argue their case and explain it well, it’s a whole other story.” 

One opinion instead of a hundred

Both Tvedt and de Gruyter shared their views with the audience of the GST & Shipping in Copenhagen in March. The event brought together over 450 industry experts to dive into the latest in global regulations, digital trends, technology innovations, sustainable shipping and the like.

At the conference, de Gruyter had an interesting discussion with port authorities.

“We talked about what authorities and government could do to encourage early adapters,” she tells. “Of course, we couldn’t finalise the conversation, but it’s definitely something that needs to be talked about.”

Tvedt, too, believes in the power of dialogue, but the conversation needs to begin from the right end. At the moment, Tvedt has noticed that at an event of 50 people, there are at least 100 opinions on what, for example, autonomous shipping means. To make the end result relevant, people need to be on the same page – or boat – as to what is being talked about.

“It makes no sense to talk about rules and regulations until we have a vocabulary and a framework in place,” he notes. “Regulation will, by default, lag behind technical development, because it’s like aiming at a moving target. Our job as regulators is to catch up reasonably fast but always keep an eye on the main goals, which are safety and environment.”

Connectivity is key

Neither regulators nor companies should fear in the face of the changes in process. Wärtsilä’s de Gruyter sees the benefits of digitalisation being particularly visible in increasing levels of connectivity and communication as well as enabling new business models and ways to add value to customers.

However, the change isn’t only about gains and wins.

“Digitalisation is often talked about as if it was something technical. It’s not; it’s more a culture change,” says de Gruyter. “I believe that we can’t afford not to be connected.”

Tvedt shares a similar view. He notes that digitalisation is not a revolution, but an evolution. Already his dad, a sea captain, used to guide the vessel using his voice. Essentially, the industry is just building on top of what it has had for centuries.

“I’m not a fan of big words like disruption, because the changes are gradual, just like we’ve gone from sails to steam to diesel engines,” he explains. “We’re moving from manual control to more and more automation, and putting data collection and analysis on top.”

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