Call for global effort to digitalise shipping

Experts highlight how such moves can boost trade and post-pandemic economic recovery

Senior Minister Of State For Transport And Foreign Affairs Chee Hong Tat
Senior Minister Of State For Transport And Foreign Affairs Chee Hong Tat

Digitalising the shipping industry can enhance global trade, but it will require stakeholders around the world to cooperate, said Senior Minister of State for Transport and Foreign Affairs Chee Hong Tat yesterday.

As supply chains are becoming increasingly complex with many parties spanning multiple countries, he said, shipping is a key component as it carries 80 per cent of trade.

Mr Chee was speaking at the Future of Shipping webinar on digitalisation organised by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA).

During the session, the Port Authorities Chief Information Officer Cybersecurity Network was launched to enhance cyber-security awareness in the maritime sector and for more information sharing.

The global network involves the MPA, Abu Dhabi Ports, Port of Antwerp, Port Klang Authority, Port of Kobe, Port of Long Beach, Port of Montreal, Port of Rotterdam and Port of Seattle.

"Digitalisation can lead to significant cost savings and better environmental outcomes," said Mr Chee.

He cited the World Economic Forum's estimates that document processing accounts for a fifth of total transportation costs in global trade, and digitalisation benefits the environment by reducing paper documents, lowering carbon emissions through shortened waiting times for vessels at anchorages, and improving fuel efficiency.

Digitalisation can also help businesses stay resilient, said Mr Chee.

"Data visibility and exchange allow port operators and users to obtain critical data in advance, and make quick interventions when things go wrong," he added.

He highlighted Singapore's handling of the crew change issue, which involved balancing public health concerns to keep supplies moving, and how telemedicine now enables doctors to certify crew members fit for travel via video consultations.

Instead of worrying about technology displacing jobs and replacing workers, Mr Chee said, it will more likely "augment human workers and enable the maritime industry to create better and higher-value jobs".


Digitalisation can lead to significant cost savings and better environmental outcomes.


In what he called a "mammoth task", Mr Chee stressed that the IMO - which sets regulations and standards for the maritime community - has a vital role to play in leading the digital transformation.

He also called on IMO to help weaker member states build digital capacity, as "the digital supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link".

Mr Chee said that MPA will be rolling out the second phase of digitalPORT@SG, a platform to digitalise port processes, next year.

IMO secretary-general Kitack Lim said digitalisation is key to the global economy's post-virus recovery and to taking shipping into a new era.

IMO director of maritime safety Heike Deggim said there is a strong need to balance the benefits of new technologies with safety and security, particularly cyber security.

"We got a stark reminder of this last week when IMO's (information technology) teams were experiencing a cyber attack of unprecedented severity, which paralysed almost all of our systems," he said.

The World Bank's Transport Global Practice senior port and maritime transport specialist Ninan Oommen Biju said Covid-19 has exposed a gap in technological capabilities within the sector, and warned that the delay in introducing a digital platform would threaten business continuity in subsequent waves of the pandemic.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 09, 2020, with the headline 'Call for global effort to digitalise shipping'. Subscribe