Do maritime authorities have a role in shipping digitalisation?

With digitalisation being adopted by the maritime and transport sector at an ever increasing pace, attention is now being paid to ensuring that the different modes of transport are much better connected to overcome the coordination and synchronisation challenges that arise from port visits, write Mikael Lind, RISE and Mikael Renz, Swedish Maritime Administration.

In the emerging digital landscape, the different parties engaged  along the transport chain need to take action to improve their coordination and synchronisation by sharing the information upon which they have a mutual dependency. One initiative is to adopt message standards and standardised interfaces for the exchange of relevant information of mutual interest and benefit, another is the provision of operational data sharing environments to do this.

For the latter, several initiatives are underway to establish information sharing communities empowered by data sharing platforms (data pipelines), while at the same time fulfilling the needs of information transparency among the involved actors.

Examples of such efforts are the European Maritime Single Window legislation, with the aim of harmonising reporting to authorities, and the adoption of port community systems (PCS) with the aim of supporting the administrative processes associated with port operations.

These approaches mean that ‘information islands’ emerge that need to be connected. Regardless of whether the data sharing is to be pursued on a voluntary or a regulatory basis, different information sharing environments engaging a selected group of actors need to be connected to secure information transparency along the transport chain.

In this article, we highlight the Swedish ‘Digital (port) approach’ as an example of the actions that a maritime authority can take to ease the burden of regulatory reporting along the maritime supply chain. This approach is a response to the fact that all port visits made in Europe and internationally must now be able to use digital means to meet their reporting obligations.

Emerging requirements and obligations for digital data sharing

After concluding that its 2010/65 directive to harmonise maritime administrative procedures by making the electronic transmission of information standard would not fully achieve the desired result, the EC put forward new legislation for a European maritime single window environment (eMSWe).

The aim of this legislation is to achieve harmonisation (mainly on machine-to-machine communication), and it will be implemented in August 2025.

Within IMO, the development of maritime services under its concept of e-navigation is also ongoing, as is work on the harmonisation of structures and formats for digitally transmitted data. These (digital) maritime services will be provided by both private and public actors, covering a wide range of areas including pilotage, vessel reporting, telemedicine and nautical publications.

These information services depend on the provision of information that is described in a standardised way. It can come from various reliable sources and then be made available for many uses.

One example is an estimated time of arrival (ETA). The source for an ETA could be a part of a message provided by a shipping company to the authority, or by a (private) terminal operator. Connecting various different actors with common interests in this way, digitalisation enables the same information to be reported only once and then used by all actors.

The Swedish Digital Approach Concept

Historically, different initiatives have been taken to encourage digital collaboration among stakeholders within Sweden’s 52 ports, to align with traffic and logistics management across different modes of transports.

There is a close relationship between the national maritime authority and port authorities serving the ports in Sweden. The maritime authority is responsible for the national seaways and operates the Vessel Traffic System (VTS), while port authorities are responsible for the waters within their port areas. Sometimes maritime authorities provide pilot services supporting a ship’s passage to/from the berth.

That relationship is particularly evident in Gothenburg, the largest port in Scandinavia, where the Swedish Maritime Administration and the Port Authority of Port of Gothenburg work closely together. The maritime authority has recognised that it has a role to play in collecting data based on legal requirements, but that data could additionally be used for other purposes by diverse stakeholders, who can also collect other data that can be input to complete reporting requirements.

This is the fundamental concept of reporting data once – and then using it many times.

The Swedish Digital Approach concept builds upon the idea of consuming data from multiple sources as well as providing data to private and public actors, making the port an integrated part of the transport system as a whole and thereby enabling the development of smart ships and smart ports.

As required in the eMSWe legislation, a variety of information about the ship and the cargo / passengers / crew needs to be reported to different recipients (such as the coast guard, the police, national defence, and customs) in order to receive clearance to enter a port. At the core of the digital approach is the establishment of a regulatory information sharing community, positioned relative to other local information sharing communities and horizontal information sharing communities.

A typical local information sharing community is the actors within a port exchanging information, while a typical horizontal information sharing community is the particular actors involved in an end-to-end supply chain.


Figure 1: Governmental (regulative) information sharing community in the context of local
and horizontal information sharing communities

The digital maritime services shown above all require information from diverse actors. A governmental information sharing environment that is connected to other information sharing environments allows the provision of services based on data from multiple sources.

Regulation-based collaboration

The Swedish Digital Approach aims to meet the emerging legal requirements on reporting formalities as an integrated part of an emerging digital ecosystem of services associated with port visits, sharing data among Swedish governmental agencies by building upon agreed EU and IMO/FAL standards.

This approach provides an interface to other local information sharing environments, such as port community systems or other types of local information sharing communities that are used by the Swedish ports, as well as to horizontal information sharing communities and to external stakeholders.

An interface to data for transport stakeholders to enable integration, and to enhance their capabilities and support their services as part of a seamless and sustainable transport chain, is another important aspect of the concept.

Maritime authorities have an important role in the digitalisation of shipping, especially as reporting formalities currently create a significant administrative burden for shipping companies. Some larger shipping companies have already started the journey by establishing direct interfaces with some maritime authorities in some countries. However, the real goal should be to get all ports in Europe aligned so the same interfaces would be used to provide information irrespective of which authority operates a port.

At the same time, national governmental information sharing communities should be created and connected via horizontal information sharing communities, enabling multiple sources of information associated with the particular port visit.

Ideally, in a connected future, it will also be possible for a maritime authority to pull data from various (local and horizontal) information sharing communities to generate the basis of the reports it requires, so the captain, or someone acting on behalf of the ship, need only fill in the missing details and then formally file the report.

Editor’s note: This article is an abridged version of a longer paper by the authors, including further details and a full list of references, which can be downloaded here.

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About the Authors

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Mikael Lind is Associate Professor and Senior strategic research advisor at RISE, and the co-founder of Maritime Informatics. He also works at Chalmers University of Technology, for the World Economic Forum, Europe’s Digital Transport Logistic Forum (DTLF), and UN/CEFACT.

Mikael Renz is Senior Advisor on IT strategy and architecture at the Swedish Maritime Administration. He acts as a national expert on Maritime Single Window within the EU, UNECE and IMO, currently chairs the IMO expert group on data harmonization (IMO EGDH) and is a Swedish representatives at Europe’s Digital Transport Logistic Forum (DTLF).

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