Every day we face increasing pressure to perform flawlessly against a backdrop of cost pressure, supply chain disruption, unclear regulation, and a fight for talent. To add to the challenge, business partners, customers and stakeholders also expect us to deliver on decarbonisation, while digitalisation continues to transform nearly every aspect of our private and business lives.
The maritime industry is arguably a bit late in embracing digital tools. The interest and investment directed towards maritime digital platforms and start-ups has taken off exponentially spurred on by the global pandemic and the growth of maritime software platforms like RightShip, Winward and Vessels Value for example. More than 300 niche maritime start-ups who have collectively invested over $3 billion in new products and services, by recent estimates, within the last five years alone. Most of these new companies seek to deliver “data led insights” which are displayed in dashboards, graphs, and benchmarking tools. This provides a range of comparisons, sortable across any device or phone, instantly available 24/7 at the push of a button.
The proliferation of new software has increased the volume of data being generated, shared between systems, and analysed. This data is passed through increasingly sophisticated algorithms to deliver real-time maritime risk assessments for decision-makers. These include operational reliability and safety assessments, marine assurance and vetting related products. The information these decision-makers use to judge performance is often in the public domain, and you can be sure that you are being scored and ranked by others, in most cases, without knowing it.
Port State Control (PSC) inspections are carried out to verify that ships engaged in international trade comply with international rules and regulations and specific national requirements. The results of these inspections are recorded by the inspecting authority using a standard format. Where serious non-compliance is discovered, the vessel is detained in port, until repaired satisfactorily before departing. These detentions, along with any deficiencies noted, are published in regional databases which are then aggregated globally and made accessible to interested parties and individuals through online portals.
PSC data is unique in the shipping industry, as it covers all major ports and trade corridors, has a long time series, and is made available to interested parties externally. For this reason, historic PSC data has become the standard most often used for benchmarking suppliers, often used in the selection process to appoint a ship manager, class society, or flag register.
The importance of PSC data has increased further with the arrival of new software fuelled by automated real time data feeds. It is now used systematically in vessel selection, vetting, finance, and chartering workflows. This new development makes all incidents, even relatively minor ones, instantly more visible and therefore potentially more impactful.
When a vessel is detained, we naturally focus on the cost of getting the vessel released from detention. This typically includes a visit by the owner’s team, additional class survey fees, port charges and repair costs, as well as revenue lost through either off-hire or delay. These added costs are significant and depending on the ship type and size and the freight market they are typically of the order $25,000 to $75,000 before the direct costs. However, this is not the complete picture.
Commodity producers, like mines, are completely dependent on the transportation of their products by sea to their customers abroad. Ensuring safe, reliable, and incident free shipping 24/7 is therefore not only a vital part of reputation management, but also to the overall revenue earned by the company, given this is directly related to amount of cargo safely shipped to the end customer.
Those who are ultimately accountable for the performance of maritime transportation and supply chains within these large companies, seek shipping partners who can demonstrate their ability to deliver operational reliability and necessary ongoing learning to deal with incidents that do arise quickly and effectively.
In our ever information rich world, this need is no longer confined solely to the tankers and bulk carriers, subject to vetting processes. Responding quickly and professionally to incidents applies across all shipping segments. Many ship owners are not aware they are being assessed on a benchmarking platform, or if they do, which one is being used by which customer.
The decision on which ship or owner to avoid or hire, may no longer be taken solely by the commercial charterer of the ship. The end user of the cargo or product, armed with analytics tools and charts, is now having a larger say in the decision. Given there is no commercial agreement between them, and therefore no line of sight, the first an owner hears about this is normally when the vessel charter is not renewed, or the vessel is rejected for business.
Ship operators who are more aware of how the landscape is changing through new software platforms and the importance of what their data trail says about them, are better placed to position themselves as preferred suppliers. Demonstrating your ongoing operational performance, including how you follow up on incidents, even minor ones, holds a much greater value going forward, especially when you remember that the data produced will be accessible forever.
The decisions made by colleagues spread across the world, often in remote locations, have an increasingly significant impact on company reputations and future access to favourable business with better customers. However, even in this complex landscape, technology can provide the information needed to make better choices.
Dealing with the questions flagged by risk tools and benchmarking are often not factored into the total cost picture. So, while getting it wrong operationally may prove more costly than you might realise, the good news is that getting it right, will increasingly allow you to differentiate your services positively also.
Delivering reliable, safe, and efficient shipping 24/7 globally is no simple task. It takes skill, teamwork, and importantly brave and authentic leaders. Resisting the temptation for knee-jerk reactions, blame culture or short-term band aids will increase as incidents become more visible and pop up more frequently. Those who are prepared to prioritise and approve the ongoing investments required to support a culture of ongoing learning and development, both at sea and ashore, will run more successful and sustainable businesses.
Effective corrective action requires expert root cause investigation, internal audits, fleet updates and seminars. This process will often also identify the need for additional training for both shipboard and shore-based colleagues. When making decisions to approve the investments required to support the ongoing development of skills and learning, remember to consider the benefit to your external image and the data your longer-term performance will generate, upon which customers and decision-makers will judge your services.
Although the arrival of these new benchmarking platforms may bring a few initial challenges, those who understand how this will continue to change our landscape, including supplier and business partner selection, will be in a better position to justify the added cost and respond appropriately. In our increasingly data driven world, it will become increasingly imperative to do the right thing, even when we think we aren’t being watched.
Martin has always demonstrated a passion for advancing sustainability, safety and social outcomes in the maritime industry, to deliver prosperity without harm to people or the planet. His journey continues through Lookout Maritime, an independent company he founded in 2021 to deliver this mission. Lookout Maritime partners and collaborates with leading companies and stakeholders who align and combine both the commercial and sustainability incentives to accelerate the adoption of better business practices.
His skills have been refined over more than 25 years, in a wide range of industry roles, most recently as CEO of RightShip. He brings a rather unique perspective but combining his varied experience in technical, regulatory, digital and commercial roles to solve industry challenges in a more “joined up” and practical way. He is a currently a serving member of the Council of the Baltic Exchange.
www.lookoutmaritime.com or www.linkedin.com/in/mc-b
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