Maritime Technologies Are Transforming The Shipping Industry

New Maritime Technologies Will Change the Shipping Industry


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While the basic principles of navigation have not changed for hundreds of years, despite the use of new tools such as satellite navigation, shipping is now going through a new electronic evolution. This is transforming the operations and strategies of shipping companies and the maritime trade is adopting digital technologies including Artificial Intelligence (AI) and expanding connectivity, enabling cargo and ships to be remotely monitored in real time.

This digitalisation of shipping is generating new business logic and new business models to create economic and social value that are significantly altering shipping’s future. 

Many orthogonal or interconnected technologies such as AI blockchain algorithms and platforms are creating a variety of digital solutions, such as digital assistants for transportation professionals or secure, decentralised cargo tracking processes.  Digital technologies and solutions for shipping are also intertwined with related technologies and supply chain solutions. 

The International Association of Classification Societies (IACS) has said in a recent statement, “that cyber incidents on vessels can have a direct and detrimental impact on life, property, and the environment, IACS has steadily increased its focus on the reliability and functional effectiveness of onboard, safety-critical, computer-based systems. “IACS identified at an early stage that, for ships to be resilient against cyber incidents, all parts of the industry needed to be actively involved, and so convened a Joint Working Group (JWG) on Cyber Systems which helped identify best practices, appropriate existing standards in risk and cyber security, and a practical risk-based approach.”

“Unified Requirements (URs) on the cyber resilience of ships will be applied to new ships contracted for construction on and after 1 January 2024 although the information contained therein may be applied in the interim as non-mandatory guidance.” the IACS conclude

Traditionally the maritime industry is often not known as an early new technologies user. Sailing ships made of wood had been used for thousands of years; until just over 200 years ago the technology lept first to steam ships and then, with a surprising speed, to modern giant vessels equipped with radars, GPS, ECDIS and other smart devices.

Since the time of wooden ships, the maritime systems have developed exponentially, so here is a guide explaining technologies that will change the shipping industry and maritime careers in the next decade or so. Improvements in shipbuilding called megaships with advanced materials, smart shipping, propulsion, robotics, big data and sensors are making the work on the Earth's waters easier.

There are three most prominent tendencies that will guide further digitalisation of the shipping industry: 

1.    Smart technologies overtaking the majority of processes on board.

2.    Arrival of unmanned ships

3.    Eco-friendly shipping.

Smart shipping is a general term for digital technologies designed to make shipping operations safer and more efficient. For instance, weather route planning, Dynamic Positioning, cargo, ballast and emission control systems are included in the list. 

The IMarEST (Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology) in association with Clide & Co insurers have recently conducted research on ‘The impact of technology change on the shipping industry’. And 48% of responders think that smart shipping technologies will change the maritime industry in the next 10 -15 years. Ship crews, managers and port authorities already make good use of digital technologies.  For instance, the Port of Rotterdam collaborates with IBM on the smart solution that helps the port to prepare accommodation when the vessel is still 42 km away from Rotterdam. 

Key Technology Trends Transforming Shipping in 2023

Global maritime trade is being transformed by digitalisation, artificial intelligence and expanding connectivity, enabling cargo and ships to be remotely monitored in real time.

Maritime industries have recovered from the global coronavirus pandemic with requirements for remote operations and rising demand for better crew welfare services. In 2023, ship owners will need digitalisation and voyage optimisation to comply with IMO’s carbon intensity index (CII) and will use new types of communications to provide greater connectivity to seafarers, charterers and regulators.

There will be pressure to develop sustainable solutions for decarbonisation and to reduce operating expenditure using internet of things (IoT) and applications enabled by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, driven through faster communications at sea and better connectivity for vessels.

But concern is growing over the distraction of navigation officers using mobile phones on ship bridges after evidence from ship accident reports indicates vessels are grounding because crew and marine pilots are using mobile devices for personal communications when they should be concentrating on safe navigation.

Here are the trends in maritime communications and vessel optimisation to prepare for in 2023.

Drones:    The classification societies that certify ships have been experimenting with the use of Drones to carry out remote surveys of areas onboard ships that are difficult to reach. Meanwhile, the Port of Singapore has also been using drones to send essential spares to short-range vessels transiting the straits of Singapore.
New fuels

Decarbonisation:    Is the most important challenge facing the shipping industry. While systems have been developed to reduce the environmental impact of existing fuels, new ultra-low or zero carbon fuels are necessary to achieve the long-term objective of decarbonising the industry. Shipping is currently discussing medium-term solutions such as lower carbon fuels such as LNG, methyl-alcohol and bio-oil, as well as other technologies such as hybrid propulsion, wind assistance, energy recovery, hydrodynamic and aerodynamic optimization and hull lubrication.

New trade routes:   As climate change evolves, new trading routes are emerging in areas such as the Arctic Circle and on the North Sea Route. Such routes will open up new ports and reduce shipping times in the northern hemisphere.

Low-latency connectivity:   Geostationary orbiting (GEO) satellites have dominated maritime communications since its inception, especially using very small aperture terminals (VSAT). With the exception of Iridium’s L-band constellation, most ship communications are over GEO satellites, whether this is C, Ku, Ka or L bands. But in 2023, this will change at an accelerating rate as new low Earth orbit (LEO) networks enter the market and a medium Earth orbit (MEO) constellation is expanded.

Elon Musk entered the maritime communications market with SpaceX’s Starlink mini-satellites that provide ultra-low latency between vessels and shore. These circumnavigate the globe at a similar distance from the surface as the international space station, with much shorter communications distances than GEO satellites. In Q4 2022, maritime communications providers were beginning to offer Startlink to shipping companies and operators of offshore vessels seeking to benefit from lower connectivity latency. More will come in 2023.

Higher in orbit are OneWeb’s satellites, offering latency of just 70 milliseconds (ms) compared with 180 ms of MEO satellites and over 600 ms for communications over geosynchronous orbiting units. In 2023, there will be more than 650 satellites, including in-orbit spares, enabling OneWeb to offer a full maritime service. Lower latency is an important factor for using cloud-based services, adopting new digitalisation applications and operating and monitoring autonomous vessels.

  • SES is advancing its MEO constellation with O3b mPower satellites due to be commissioned in 2023 to provide Gbps of bandwidth for cruise ships, naval flotillas, offshore accommodation, drilling rigs and production platforms.
  • Inmarsat has also revealed plans to invest in LEO satellites to augment its GEO Global Xpress constellation, which will be expanded and enhanced through the launch of new Ka-band satellites and payloads on satellites in highly elliptical orbits.

Digitalisation for CII compliance:   The shipping industry is under pressure to decarbonise in the next decade, to cut emissions of pollutants including carbon. Many have announced their strategies to be carbon-neutral and targets for net zero within 10 or 20 years. In the long term, this will come from switching to low-carbon or zero-carbon fuels and batteries and introducing efficient new builds. But developing alternative and sustainable fuels is difficult and expensive, and maritime industries may not be able to adopt these new fuels until 2030. In the shorter term, shipowners need to react to IMO’s new carbon intensity index (CII), which came into force Q4 2022, by increased efficiency via digitalisation and voyage optimisation.

Remote monitoring using onboard sensors, IoT and regular observational reporting enables shipping companies to understand the energy intensity of vessel operations and offer advice to captains to reduce fuel consumption. Voyages can be optimised to lower ship speeds and use favourable currents and weather patterns to cut emissions while maintaining safe navigation. Analysing data can help owners to monitor fuel consumption and report emissions cuts to authorities.

Shipowners who adopt these technologies will be able to go beyond CII and obtain a competitive advantage over those that have not. There are clear benefits in terms of reducing operating expenditure, gaining better charters and improving efficiency on ships. 

Smart Vessel Maintenance:   Shipping companies and engine manufacturers are increasingly using AI and machine learning for predictive maintenance on critical equipment on vessels. Engineers can use machine learning and adaptive algorithms to gain advanced insight into performance, condition and outcomes of ship machinery, systems and whole vessels. These are evolving technologies, with hardware and software elements learning how to mimic human capacity for observing, monitoring, understanding and decision-making.

By combining AI with human expertise, shipowners can predict when maintenance is required to prevent breakdowns and provide chief engineers and captains with advice on improving machinery performance.

Owners can reduce operating costs using predictive diagnostics and IoT-based smart maintenance to enable in-time parts availability for optimal maintenance and to facilitate more in-water overhauls to reduce drydocking expenditure. They can also use real-time data and advanced 3D computer models of ships for digital twins of actual vessels to monitor, diagnose and predict when maintenance is required. 

AI and machine learning can also be used to monitor and track hull and propulsion problems. These technologies can be combined with virtual and augmented reality in eyewear, so onshore engineers can provide real-time information and advice to those maintaining and overhauling machinery on ships.

JIT Port Arrival:   There is a conundrum in the shipping industry that needs to be solved before ships can be truly decarbonised. Ports and terminals work on a different timescale to ships, and charterers have alternative requirements to shipowners. This is seen regularly with ships sailing at high speed with high emissions between ports, only to be anchored outside the harbour waiting for its slot to load or unload cargo. 

With many ports and terminals working on a first-come-first-served basis, cargo owners, charterers and ship operators want to get there early, but this leaves ships steaming at full speed consuming much more fuel than if their voyage was optimised. There is also evidence ships have taken the quickest route between ports ignoring forecasts of adverse weather, putting the vessel, cargo and seafarers at risk.

Decarbonisation efforts mean there is an increasing need for just-in-time port arrivals and better communications between stakeholders in the ship and the ports.

AI is expected to play an increasing role in voyage optimisation and JIT port arrivals. But what is needed is better data exchange, through one universal global platform, and changes in charter parties to optimise routes and arrival at optimal times. There is some evidence 2023 will see improvements to port-ship data exchange and co-ordination by more parties in a ship’s voyage to reap the early benefits of JIT port arrival.

First Adopters Benefit from Autonomous Ships:   Autonomous ships finally arrived in 2022. The world’s first electric and self-propelled container ship Yara Birkeland departed for its maiden voyage and started regular routes with a small crew, which could be removed relatively soon. It is transporting mineral fertiliser between Porsgrunn and Brevik, Norway and enabling those involved in the project to test remote monitoring and autonomous vessel technologies. This ship is operated from Maasterlys’ monitoring and operation’s centre in Horten, Norway. Massterly is a joint venture between Kongsberg and Wilhelmsen.

This world first is being replicated by shipping lines conscious of reducing emissions and minimising crewing on other routes, mainly in Norway. Massterly and Kongsberg have been involved in trials with two electric cargo ships for Norwegian grocery distributor ASKO. Marit and Therese will operate with a limited crew of two to four people on board, including captains, during the period of certification, but from then they will be operated under the remote control of an onshore centre run by Massterly.

Other demonstrations have used autonomous navigation technology on tugs to showcase remote control capabilities and test hazard avoidance. 

These trials will prove technology, enabling them to be applied on larger vessels, including those providing offshore surveys, and merchant ships. For example, Massterly is also assisting Reach Subsea to operate an underwater survey vessel remotely in 2023.

More autonomous ships are coming this decade to reduce human risks, but there are still questions about whether computers can be better trusted to make the right decisions in all situations. There are also questions over whether autonomous ships will be reliable enough to be operated unmanned across oceans and in congested shipping lanes.

Meanwhile, there are more technologies that will become habitual in the near future:

Smart Drones:   5G technology will allow smart drones to be used for real-time ship inspections; improve ship-to-shore communication for traffic management and alleviate seafarers’ perennial problem of contacting their families.  Moreover, Kun Yang, the board chairman of the world’s first maritime 5G project, believes that this technology “will play an important role for the remote control of autonomous ships in the future” as well.

The Internet of Things (IoT):    This also is an inclusive term for gadgets and machines that can be controlled remotely via the Internet. 5G technology is necessary for the implementation either, but control of hatch doors, bays, bulkhead systems and hydraulics without the need for a crew member to be present on the spot will be among the advantages.

Digital Sensors:    Future ships will be covered with sensitive data collectors measuring and recording all aspects of the vessel operation up to fault detection and discovering areas subject to maintenance or repair. 
There are obvious pros in this technology, but objectors point that it will lead to inevitable deterioration of engineering and navigational skills of seafarers.

Blockchain Technology:    Blockchain has been used successfully in the financial sector for a while; and today engulfs the maritime industry. Many ship owners and logistic companies use cloud-based applications to unite travel logbooks, spreadsheets, databases and so on in one place. Each bit of information is recorded separately and chronologically, so no alteration in data can be made without a go-ahead from other users.

Though it sounds complicated, blockchain technology reduces the number of frauds and human errors, and makes millions of containers easier to track, entailing reduction of costs.

It is expected that the worldwide application of smart shipping technologies will not affect the number of seafarers, although additional training will be required as crews’ role shifts to supervision and maintenance of digital devices. Nevertheless, this total switch to digital shipping is bound to result in a fully-fledged autonomous ships’ arrival in the near future as well.

Unmanned Ships 

Despite a general assumption that autonomous or semi-autonomous ships will replace conventional vessels, the timeline of such a transition remains vague. There are several serious issues concerning cyber security, insurance and collision avoidance that may delay the arrival of unmanned ships. An autonomous ship is furnished with infrared and visual cameras, radar, lidar, GPS and AIS along with various sensors and edge devices. All data collected is then processed by AI systems either on board or in some mission control center to determine course and the appropriate behavior. 

Autonomous Ships In 2021

Most prominent IT and shipbuilding companies from IBM to Samsung Heavy Industries experiment with unmanned ships (UMS) these days. Today the maritime community tracks the Transatlantic voyage of another unmanned concept. Fully autonomous, AI powered marine research vessel Mayflower started her journey from Plymouth in the UK late in 2021 and arrived in Plymouth Massachusetts in the US having crossed the Atlantic with a couple of stops along the way. 

  • MAS400 is a trimaran constructed by non-profit marine research organisation ProMare with support from IBM and numerous other partners. 
  • The Mayflower is 15m (49ft) long, 6.2 (20.3 ft) meters wide and weighs about 5 tonnes. Her maximum speed is 10 knots achieved with the help of a solar-driven hybrid electric motor. The MAS is intended to cross the Atlantic collecting scientific data about the ocean and testing the ability of AI to operate marine vessels without any human involvement. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Unmanned Ships

Having discovered the basics of autonomous vessel technology and recent developments, what are their pros and cons.

Reduced operational costs:  Crew costs typically account for about 20 – 30% of the total cost for a cargo ship’s journey, so unmanned ships offer:

  • No travel arrangements.
  • No port calls for crew changes or respite.
  • No wages paid to seafarers.
  • No need to supply and support crew members during voyages.

The most obvious plus of having no crew on board also leads to:

  • Raised operational costs onshore - Building operational centers and employing engineers might cost a fortune.
  • It would be more difficult to repel any assault (cyber or physical) without any crew onboard; and almost impossible to regain control over the ship.
  • No accidents as a result of human errors. 

Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty insurance (AGCS ) has estimated that 75% to 96% of marine accidents can involve human error. This great advantage has the opposite side as well. Experts fear that human errors would simply transfer to remote operational centers or IT personnel who, quite like crew members, might experience fatigue and make a critical error in the code.

Increased financial and fuel efficiency:   Unmanned ships require no living quarters, galleys, plumbing and other facilities that make living and working on board possible. Autonomous ships allow more cargo space and improved fuel efficiency. On the other hand, unmanned ships need more hi-tech equipment which is likely to be exorbitantly expensive.

In addition, the usual lifespan of a commercial vessel is 25 – 30 years, but in the case of unmanned ships it would be reduced several times as IT technologies evolve faster compared to machinery systems.

Piracy Eradicated:    Rolls-Royce believes that future ships will be of no interest to pirates as there will be no crew to kidnap and cargo systems unavailable for manual operations. Others are convinced that piracy will change its form; and we can well see an autonomous vessel hijacked and ransomed in the near future.

Cyber Security:   There has been a 400% increase in maritime related cyber-attacks since February 2020, affecting shipping and offshore, and this number is only exponentially growing. And according to the authors of the article  Maritime Cyber Security: A Growing Threat Goes Unanswered.  “The maritime industry has been lagging 10–20 years behind other industries and leaving computer networks insecure and open for intrusion by organised crime and state actors”. 

Meanwhile, the memory of the hack that took down the largest fuel pipeline in the US is fresh in memory. It brought about historic fuel shortages across the East Coast and appeared to happen as a result of a single compromised password.

Commenting on maritime cyber security, Marty Edwards, Deputy CTO for OT/IoT at Tenable said "The days of a sailor with their hand directly on the tiller are long gone. Modern ships and maritime vessels should be considered floating cities, and the computer systems that operate them are just as vulnerable as their land-based siblings. Owners and operators in the maritime industry should consider cybersecurity an increasingly important area of potential risk.”

Lack of Regulations:   The industry is still unprepared for the arrival of autonomous ships. For instance, unmanned ships don’t comply with the main maritime safety regulatory documents like, say, Rule 5 in the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREG) which requires there to be a lookout present in order to avoid collisions. In particular, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) requires ships to be able to assist in search and rescue operations, such as picking up survivors in case of a shipwreck. 

Unfortunately, these conditions are simply incompatible with autonomous ships. It is obvious that these are early days for autonomous shipping and the international maritime industry will embrace UMS very cautiously.

Consequently, the time of seafaring has not passed yet. Furthermore, the above mentioned IMarEST research shows that seafarers most probably will be transferred to work in operational centers upon the arrival of truely unmanned ships. 

Green Shipping Technologies:    Alternative fuels and fuel purification systems (LNG, methanol, ammonia, biofuel, hydrogen or scrubbers). Wind and solar hybrid propulsion systems which promise to reduce CO2 imprint up to 90%. These systems are tested all over the world, but the most promising concepts today are:

  • RO-RO ship Oceanbird with  five 80 m rigs and carbon sails. The biggest sailing ship will carry 7 000 vehicles across the Atlantic Ocean in 12 day. The delivery is scheduled for 2024.
  • Turanor PlanetSolar catamaran equipped with 29 000 solar cells which has circumnavigated the globe successfully. 

No Ballast Systems:    Scientists all over the world have been raising alarm seeing how sediments and microorganisms transported in ballast waters destroy ecosystems. This process is called a biological invasion and can become devastating. For instance, Black Sea mussels brought to the Great Lakes with ballast waters in the 80s have turned them into poisonous waterways in just 30 years. 

Improved Shipbuilding Technologies:   Advanced propeller designs cut fuel consumption up to 4%, speed nozzles add 5 more percent to the fuel economy and as a consequence reduce NOx and COx emissions .
There are also Air Bubbles Lubrication systems and new age hull paints which eliminate friction and save up to 8% more fuel.

Permanent Magnet Thrusters:    This brand new technology ensures improved maneuverability, reduced noise and higher propulsion efficiency, cutting both energy consumption and environmental emissions.

Conclusion

The future presents many challenges, but also there are a lot of new opportunities for the maritime and shipping sectors. Technology can help solve environmental problems for shipping and improve operational efficiency, while sustainable technologies can help develop ocean space and protect the environment. 

The new technologies have a big impact on commercial shipping especially in regard to ship design and operation. Integrating smart ship development increases efficiency, research and is also a cheaper alternative for oil. 

Ships have an unfavourable effect on the environment. The fuel, oil spills and waste effluents cause an increase in pollution and environmental damage. This is why investment in alternative energy management solutions is important. It can help reduce the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon and sulfur. 

The maritime industry is a key element for many businesses to provide goods, expand or develop the world economy. To ensure that trade services are efficient, ships and shipping companies need to focus on new technologies. Technology trends appearing in the shipping sector help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They also provide alternatives (fuel cell boats) for fossil fuels. At the moment, they are the most common energy source used in ships. 

The main role of these various technologies is to provide a safe environment and help companies to develop and function better.

In the future, more ships will offer superior energy efficiency through propulsion efficiency technologies, smart and lightweight materials, and advanced hybrid energy storage systems to optimize performance. Transformative technologies will lead to advances in ship design, shipbuilding, propulsion and energy, and will undoubtedly improve the commercial and operational performance of ships. 

The pressure to invest in fossil fuel alternatives will also prompt the rapid decommissioning of oil rigs, which will be replaced by offshore wind farms. Though this is a step in the right direction for fighting climate change, these projects increase the risk of traffic and collisions, which must be mitigated with marine aids to navigation.

Digitisation will drive automation, lead to the development of smart ships and positively impact safety and environmental performance. 

New cloud technologies will significantly affect how ships and their components are designed, manufactured and operated. The Internet of Things promises to be one of the most disruptive technological revolutions since its inception.

The competitiveness of Europe's maritime industry and its ability to comply with environmental regulations, energy efficiency, safety, protection and human factors will require research, development and innovation efforts at a much more technologically advanced level than in the past. 

Today it is more critical than ever before to secure reliable and stable connectivity for maritime operations. Connectivity will boost dynamic routing, considering weather, currents and traffic and knowing which is the most efficient route. It will power the innovations of the maritime industry now and into the future and help maritime companies stay competitive both on the sea and off it.

References:

Maritime Zone:      RivieraMM        IACS

Know How:   Marine Digital:    Marine-Digital:

Ship Technology:      ICS:       Hydrosphere

Eutelsat:      Inmarsat:       RivieraMM

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