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Martin Stopford: Four-point plan to modernise shipping’s business models

Eminent shipping economist, Dr Martin Stopford, has set out a four-point plan to modernise shipping’s business models which, he says, are 50 years old and badly in need of a revamp.

In the face of inevitable climate change, what he describes as ‘the 4th Industrial Revolution at Sea’ (I4) is inevitable, and it’s clearly in the sector’s best interests to manage it effectively over the next three decades and beyond.

In a paper prepared for the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers’ publication, Marine Technology, he sets out his four strategies as follows:

  • One, move less cargo by managing trade flows, reducing tonne miles and focusing on cargo movements that add value and justify carbon emission.
  • Two, improve ship efficiency and cut carbon emissions per tonne by using digital technologies and low or zero-carbon fuels during the 40%-plus of time that ships are not at sea.
  • Three, use data transfer and blockchain technology to introduce door-to-door transport as envisaged by management consultancy, McKinsey, in 1967. This, Stopford says, has never happened because it has not been possible to integrate data systems between participants in the supply chain. Now, the systems used by cargo owners, ship operators, ports and those engaged in other transport modes can be integrated.
  • Four, develop zero carbon power plants and fuel systems.

Rapidly advancing digitalisation is the foundation for these four strategic initiatives. In today’s ‘Smart Shipping Toolbox’, Stopford says there are digital systems available to modernise shipping business.  He concedes that many of the components – microchips, telematics and databases – have been around for years but it is only recently that they have become sufficiently affordable and functional, thanks to dramatic advances in satellite communications and ship connectivity.

This last point is the main reason that shipping has lagged other transport sectors in the adoption of digital technologies. But its advantage is that many of the systems have been ‘battle-tested’ and successfully adopted in other transport modes. Shipping’s time has come and the industry is about to enter uncharted waters.


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