The maritime industry is undergoing so many changes due to digitisation so quickly, if you blink you might miss a development. Add to that pressures that include stricter environmental regulations, a foreseen decline in qualified seafarers, and the high costs that surround required technology improvements; shipping companies must face tough business decisions every day.
Frank Coles wrote in August that: “Innovation can be described as the improvement that occurs from within. Disruption, on the other hand, is change imposed from outside.” It’s safe to say that shipping is going through the latter right now. Here are five innovative start-up companies, working on solutions ranging from blockchain to renewable energy, that aim to help the shipping sector face this disruption head on.
Thinking Globally, Acting Locally
Shipping is continuously challenged by innovations, both technological and managerial. Many experts illustrate shipping’s past as being in a bubble, but today, collaborations are essential.
Starting small, Romcrew built an online maritime network that brings together maritime professionals in Romania.
“The platform was born out of an acute need for innovation in the Romanian maritime sector where networking is everything when it comes to shipping and all adjacent sectors”, Bogdan Socoliuc, Business Developer at Romcrew says. “From our team's point of view, maritime businesses in this era are all about thinking globally and acting locally. In the next few years, we will build teams of emblematic individuals in each European country and unite them under one flag, as we did in Romania.”
Offering a B2B platform to connect maritime businesses with maritime businesses, Romcrew actively facilitates future collaborations and business deals.
“Romcrew is a strategic cooperation that will tackle, one at a time, all problems that we think can be resolved in the next 10 years”, Socoliuc states. “We identify problems and then build vast networks of potential clients and try to service them, in a pro-active manner keeping in mind the interest of each and every one of them.”
Socoliuc demonstrates what he means:
“Let me give you an example: recruitment. Shipping companies are big international employers. Most of the time, they struggle between keeping costs low and performance high.
“In the era where all maritime start-ups with interest in recruitment try to solve problems with mathematical algorithms, we offer a personalised process.
“Romcrew guarantees each Recruitment consultant a dedicated account manager and aims at becoming the biggest and most efficient Maritime Job Board in Europe by providing a stellar service.”
Opening up maritime businesses to such social platforms as Romcrew is a step towards better collaboration with others. This data-based shared resource could potentially help the industry band together and transform successfully.
Taming the Modern Day Nemesis of the Mariner – Paperwork
Today, seafarers are required to go through a thorough education before securing jobs on board and need to gain even more experience to continue their career on shore. One of the most tedious aspects of being a seafarer is the administrative task of keeping their certificates together – a chore that even well-seasoned mariners find difficult. To make seafarers’ lives easier, Clyde Marine Recruitment in collaboration with ServiceDott came up with a solution: my-ankaa.
Ian Livingstone, Master Mariner and Managing Director of Clyde Marine Recruitment said: “There are over one million seafarers located around the world. Working so closely with the marine industry provided first-hand experience of the challenges that they and their companies face on a daily basis.”
“The idea for the app was born out of the recognition that there was no platform that provided a full service management system, that would also allow mariners to apply for jobs, update certificates, communicate with others and be ready for the digital future.”
A Passion for Prevention
As the number of seafarers decline on board, the remaining crew is required to step up. Consequently, seafarers on board are spread thin, and a tired seafarer is more likely to make mistakes.
Human error is only natural, but in the maritime industry, such mistakes can have fatal consequences. A seafarers’ life is undeniably tough on board, so factoring in these human elements when assessing risks is imperative for shipping operations to run smoothly.
“Being a seafarer is perhaps one of the most difficult professions”, Petros Achtypis, CEO and Founder of Prevention at Sea explains. “From my past experience, the reason behind that is because seafarers, when off duty, must socialize in their working environment while this is not the case for their colleagues onshore.”
“They must spend their rest periods on board away from their families and friends while the surrounding conditions, for example rough seas, strong winds, high or low temperatures etc., undoubtedly can affect their behaviour, too. Not only that, but they are expected to act fast by taking the correct and appropriate decisions in a very short timeframe. Add to this the time difference, distance and potential language barriers between the ship’s crew and the operators ashore, then you will get a picture of the potential volcanic mixture of risks they are being exposed to.”
Engrossed by the causalities of incidents, Achtypis based a whole company around his interest.
“Throughout my career, I’ve came across plenty of cases that have escalated into significant incidents and resulted in the loss of hire, delays at ports, serious deficiencies, detentions and adverse commercial or financial effects that could have easily been prevented if attention had been paid to trigger points and warning signals at an early stage.
“Prevention at Sea was inspired by the complex nature of the shipping industry, the struggle to remain up to date and follow the rules on a local, national and international level as well as the challenges deriving from shipping’s mobility and the contribution provided by the human element.”
Achtypis’s business, Prevention at Sea, is certified by Lloyd’s Register under the Maritime Consultancy, Marine Risk Assessment for Quality Assurance, Delivery of Maritime Training Activities, and Maritime Software Application Development scopes.
“By paying attention even to minor details and continuously monitoring global developments in terms of regulations, best practices, industry standards etc., our target is to assist our clients in detecting and addressing marine risks at an early stage so reducing the workload and the effort required to remain compliant with regulations and ensuring smooth, high quality and safe operations.
“For us, risk prevention is the assurance that the seafarer will return to his family safely, the ship will perform its voyage in a safe manner, our clients will not face unpleasant costly incidents and the environment will remain intact.”
By running risk assessment software, Prevention at Sea can also help optimising the performance of fleets.
“The ε-ORB software can signal alerts and prevent inconsistencies that could result in fines”, Achtypis explains.
“The traditional oil record book allows the occurrence of repeated illegal actions. Intentional or not, such actions will be detected by the authorities or the ship managers. Inconsistencies happen when the crew members are not fully aware of their MARPOL responsibilities and commit unauthorised discharges. It is a very difficult and time-consuming process for the shipping companies to detect these occurrences in the ORB until the ship’s supervisor or the authorities review the ship’s records. When unlawful actions are detected, it might be too late as several illegal discharges at sea may have already occurred. Instead, by having the technology in place such issues could be detected at an early stage as suspicious actions would be highlighted.”
The industry is not in the shape to take on more costs
Such cases give shipping a bad name, and Achtypis’ example is only one of the reasons why business parties find it hard to trust each other. Digitalisation, however, burst shipping’s bubble, and today, companies must find a way to adapt to the new transparent environment that connectivity allowed.
“Booking no-shows are daily operational examples where agreements fail”, Johnson Leung, Co-Founder of 300cubits says. “We think the use of TEU tokens as booking deposits could help fix this issue.”
Using cryptocurrency, 300cubits facilitates transparent business transactions, and stops container shipping from losing money.
“Other tech initiatives mostly work on software, processes, and solutions, which usually cause user experience changes and additional expenses – that is difficult to sell”, Leung explains. “The industry is not in the shape to take on more costs. We think a change just in the type of currency used would be subtle enough not to disturb the user experience but fundamental enough to cause system integrations with blockchain. The whole process will basically inject value from the crypto world into the container shipping industry instead of adding any expenses.”
Speaking about 300cubits, Leung and Lee have been working together for quite a while on this innovative platform for shipping.
“We both have just come to a point in our career where we just want to focus on what we are passionate about”, Leung states. “We actually started doing research on different new technologies, and then link what we learnt from these researches to our couple of decades of experience in finance and shipping. Tackling long standing problems in container shipping through a new crypto currency just seems straightforward to us.”
Solutions for Sustainable Shipping
Shipping has many traditions which can make old-seated operations seem archaic. When it comes to regulations, though, the more guidelines are set up by official organisations, the harder it will be for shipping to adapt without changes.
One of the most pressing challenges for shipping is the SOx regulation coming in 2020, which is preceded by emissions monitoring in 2018. Operational changes can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but ultimately, the industry must find new ways to decarbonise and move away from HFO and other fossil fuels.
Greg Atkinson, Director and Chief Technology Officer at Eco Marine Power, told us about his company’s potential solutions to shipping’s emission challenges.
“Our EnergySail and Aquarius MRE (Marine Renewable Energy) technologies are patented and unique to Eco Marine Power. We also offer in co-operation with our strategic partners marine solar power systems using hybrid battery technology and flexible marine-grade solar panels. There are other sail-based systems being developed for ships but they do not include all the features of our EnergySail or Aquarius MRE. As for marine solar power on large ships this is a fairly new market, but we are one of the leading companies in this field and are expanding our ability to deliver systems globally.”
The importance of Eco Marine Power’s work should not be underestimated. The pressure on the industry to go greener is increasing, and air pollution is one of the biggest issues shipping is facing.
“Eco Marine Power was formed to focus on the development of sustainable shipping technologies especially those related to renewable energy. Our mission is to bring to the maritime market zero emission power and propulsion technologies including solar power and rigid sail solutions.”