Intelligent shipping, which involves the use of informationization and digital technologies, could well be the silver lining for the global shipping industry to stave off an industrial recession and the ideal conduit for China to become a global maritime power, said experts.
A model of a COSCO cargo vessel is displayed during an industry expo in Shanghai. (Photo: China Daily)
After reaching a peak in 2008, the global shipping market has been facing a torrid time due to the sluggish economic fundamentals. New regulations have made it mandatory for the shipping industry to reduce its carbon footprint, leading to steps like the 2020 sulfur cap, water ballast regulations and carbon emission reduction rules, said Martin Stopford, nonexecutive president of Clarkson Research.
New technology is now the buzzword in the shipping sector as companies are exploring the possibilities of using digital tech for ship design.
"The existing challenges confronted by the shipping industry like the sluggish market and shortage of crew are largely due to high global logistics costs. Science and technology helps companies to use intelligent shipping, especially for unmanned ship freight," said Zhang Baochen, chairman of the academic committee at China Waterborne Transport Research Institute under the Ministry of Transport.
Zhang said the shipping industry is labor intensive and therefore crew reduction is seen as a viable solution to reduce costs and increase efficiency.
Intelligent shipping, the highlight of the 20th Marintec China conference that ended on Friday in Shanghai, is a new shipping system created through the integration of traditional shipping and state-of-the-art technologies. Specifically, it includes five elements: intelligent ships, intelligent navigation support, intelligent ports, intelligent shipping services and intelligent shipping supervision.
Experts attending the event said autonomous maritime technologies will not only reduce operational costs, but also ensure shipping safety with fewer human errors and also avoid the exposure of people to dangerous situations.
In addition, unmanned autonomous tech enables disruptive operational scenarios, and can help further optimize the complete logistics chain.
To date, international organizations as well as major maritime nations and regions including the UK, Finland, Norway, the Netherlands, Japan and South Korea have announced their plans for intelligent shipping. At the same time, technology is also developing rapidly across the world.
In China, COSCO Shipping Group started commercialization of the world's first large smart container ship recently, said Sun Jiakang, director of the board at China COSCO Shipping Co Ltd.
A guideline to further develop intelligent shipping as a new business model was jointly released by seven government agencies including the Ministry of Transport and the National Development and Reform Commission, has stressed the deeper integration of advanced technologies with the shipping industry in late November, Xinhuanet reported.
According to the guideline, China aims to become a global shipping development and innovation center based on breakthroughs made in several key technologies by 2025.
By 2035, the shipping industry will see new business models featuring sufficient intelligence and a high-quality intelligent shipping system will be built by 2050.
"The next 15 years will be crucial for the development of intelligent shipping technologies," said Zhang.
Intelligent shipping offers an opportunity for China to grow from a large shipping nation into a shipping power, he said.