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Time for the shipping industry to start communicating

Shipping is the engine for world trade, with more than 80 per cent of raw material and goods being moved across the world’s oceans in this way. Nevertheless, we’re lacking common procedures and technologies for ports and shipping companies to collaborate and communicate with each other. But new solutions being developed and once in place, they can save time, money, and not least, generate significant environmental benefits.

Shipping is the primary means, and most cost-effective mode of transport for both raw materials and finished goods. Yet, progress in both efficiency and reliability has been much slower in the shipping industry as compared to both air freight and land transport. In Europe, before a plane is cleared for takeoff, in needs confirmation of approval for landing at its destination at a particular time. In the shipping industry however, there are no global collaboration principles on sharing information like, for example, whether arrival is expected to be on time at the next port. When goods are sent by air or land, both the sender and recipient can typically track the goods through the entire chain of transport. With sea freight however, it is not currently possible to track goods in the same way.

– “At present, the entire maritime sector is a self-organised system. Every player acts in their own best interest. Nobody is synchronised with anybody else,” explains Mikael Lind, Research Manager at RISE.

Inefficiency is the norm

Current practice has proven to be inefficient, expensive and from an environmental perspective, not so sustainable either. On average, of the 20 million or so port visits made each year in the commercial shipping industry, at least 25 per cent of the time that the ship is at port is unproductive. Also, many ships wind up circling around or putting down anchor nearby because the port can’t receive them when they arrive.

– “We also know that a large proportion of the vessels headed in a westerly direction from Singapore are delayed when they arrive in Singapore for their last stop before leaving Asia. It’s because they’ve accumulated a lot of waiting time from the prior ports they’ve visited. As the last port in the link, Singapore has to cope with all those delays. Had it been possible to exchange information between both ports and shipping companies, these kinds of situations could have been avoided,” says Mikael Lind.

Shipping companies would like to increase the productivity of their ships and ports are under pressure to become more efficient. For that to happen however, every link in the chain of transport, from sender to receiver, must do their part in sharing and receiving relevant information.

– “If shipping companies and others in the chain would share their intentions, the ports would be much better equipped for keeping the waiting times as short as possible. But that requires that everyone can communicate with each other in a standardised way,” says Mikael Lind.

We need to develop and improve the culture of collaboration between ships and ports

Great benefits from new principles and techniques for collaboration

If we can succeed with this, there are many benefits to be had: Shipping will become more efficient, which will make it possible for the various players to optimise their resources and meet the customer’s needs.

– “Another dimension is meeting requirements further up in the value chain, e.g. companies like DHL that deliver goods to customers. They would be able to rely more on the maritime sector when it come to the delivery of goods. There’s much to be gained here: more value to customers, higher efficiency, bigger financial gains and a higher level of environmental sustainability,” says Mikael Lind.

We’re making progress and the technology exists

PortCDM could be the solution for realizing the Sea Traffic Management concept, which is an organisational concept that enables standardized data exchange between all links in the shipping chain of transport. We’ve already succeeded in creating a messaging standard that has been accepted by all of the parties involved. The format is anyway designed for use by the 90,000 merchant ships and players at around 3,900 ports worldwide who are involved in the 20 million or so port visits that occur each year. It’s worth noting, that this same messaging standard can be used in other transport segments as well.

– “Getting a messaging standard in place is an enormous achievement. This standard for the exchange of messages related to port visits, called S-211, has been adopted by the International PortCDM Council ( and is supported by IALA as a format within the Common Maritime Data Structure (CMDS) managed by the International Hydrographic Organization ( IHO) as part of the IMO's e-navigation strategy. The technology exists, but there are still more opportunities to exploit and ways that the various links in the chain could be collaborating for an optimal ecosystem. We need to develop and improve the culture of collaboration between ships and ports,” says Mikael Lind.

But progress has been made. Under the direction of RISE, a total of 13 European ports have served as testbeds and the results have been good. It’s a quick achievement given that in 2013, we still hadn’t even taken the first steps.

– “The desire, support and enthusiasm certainly exists. Several ports want to implement and continue using PortCDM. There are also many other initiatives in place for making additional progress,” concludes Mikael Lind.

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Mikael Lind

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