Shipping industry urged to do more to digitalise operations

More than 200,000 seafarers worldwide are either still stranded on ships or waiting to board them as the coronavirus pandemic rages on, said International Maritime Organisation (IMO) secretary-general Kitack Lim yesterday.

While things have got better since the start of the year, these workers, who do not have the luxury of working from home, need to be recognised as key employees and be vaccinated so they can move across borders, he added.

Mr Lim said their plight should also motivate the industry to do more to digitalise operations. This will make shipping more efficient and reduce unnecessary wait time and emissions.

“Seafarers cannot work from home, unlike many of us who have seen the benefits of technology or remote work. Shipping needs digitalisation,” he said.

Mr Lim was speaking virtually at the opening of the IMO-Singapore Future of Shipping Conference where 450 registered delegates discussed ways to decarbonise the industry.

The event fell on the last day of the 15th Singapore Maritime Week, which was themed around decarbonisation, digitalisation and talent attraction.

The participants, who included shipping company chief executives, engineers, researchers and port operators, shared how best to transition from conventional marine fuels to zero-carbon types such as hydrogen, ammonia and methanol.

Although these are not yet commercially viable, IMO targets to cut the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2050 and achieve net-zero emissions as soon as possible within the century.

The shipping sector currently accounts for 2 per cent to 3 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Calling the fight against climate change “the challenge of our time”, Mr Lim said: “We all have a part to play in addressing challenges… to keep pace with the demands of the global economy and the expectations for sustainable growth. The maritime world needs to be in the forefront of transformational change.”

He added: “We need to facilitate decarbonisation and enhance digitalisation for safer, more environmentally friendly and efficient shipping.”

He took the chance to advocate for a single digital portal through which all vessel-related transactions at ports can be processed – a new way of operations that IMO is pushing for.

He said a committee is working on an IMO convention to make the use of such portals compulsory.

“The challenge is to ensure it is fully implemented across all nations and all ports… Preparation for this is essential,” he added.

Singapore recently launched a trial of such a system, called digitalPORT@SG phase two.

It gives users real-time updates on ships’ estimated arrival and departure times as well as their port activities.

With the aid of the system, ships will no longer have to rush to wait at ports for their turn.

Scheduling will be tighter and services like bunkering can be effectively deployed on time.

Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said in a pre-recorded message that Singapore will partner the IMO in helping developing countries digitise their port clearance processes.

“The merits of a maritime single window are inherently constrained if only adopted at one port… Last month, the IMO invited interested member states to apply to participate, and a suitable pilot country will be selected soon,” he added.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, the Singapore Shipping Association and non-profit organisation Global Compact Network Singapore will also jointly train industry players in carbon accounting as well as managing and lowering emissions.