Collaboration is the future

Alexandra Anagnostis-Irons

Alexandra Anagnostis-Irons · 27 January 2020

Owner, Total Marine Solutions


Imagine being able to improve efficiency, reliability and regulatory compliance simply by sharing data. From ship owners and operators to ports and logistics service providers, the need for data sharing is essential to navigate the ever-increasing demands placed on the maritime industry.

A study conducted in 2017 titled "Competitive Gain in the Ocean Supply Chain: Innovation That's Driving Maritime Operational Transformation," found that the maritime industry was suffering “costly inefficiencies” due to ineffective data sharing and poor cross-industry collaboration.

However, that same study went on to conclude that as ship owners and operators come to realize that collaboration not only can help their bottom line, but also create a safer and cleaner industry, more stakeholders have begun to embrace it through the adoption of new technology models and processes.

To be sure, changing the industry’s mindset has not happened overnight, and it still could be years before cross-collaboration is fully embraced. We still must overcome a number of challenges including costs, misaligned priorities and fear of losing out to the competition, to name a few. But as we move toward an increasingly stricter regulatory environment, the sense of urgency has become greater than ever before.

One of the earliest moves into maritime data sharing came in 2007 when Dimitris Lekas, a self-described “computer geek” with a love for the ocean, founded MarineTraffic. It started as an open, community-based project that provided real-time ship positional data, along with other key vessel information. Lekas recognized the value that automatic identification system (AIS) data – which uses transponders on ships to chart their location – could have for the entire industry. He relied on crowdsourcing to disseminate the information to as wide an audience as possible.

At the time, Lekas was considered a disruptor. Many could not see the benefit of sharing information for fear it would impede competition. Plus, change is difficult for some.

More than a decade later, however, MarineTraffic continues to utilize publicly available information and collaboration among those who report the data, to help make the maritime industry more efficient, transparent and compliant.

Lekas knew early on what many in the maritime industry are just started to realize: Data can help all shipowners make informed and intelligent decisions that benefit their bottom line.

Many other industries have long since embraced collaboration and created cross-industry partnerships. For example, Ford is working with the Volkswagen Group on the creation of autonomous vehicles, while some of the country’s biggest banks are collaborating with Zelle, rather than create their own peer-to-peer payment network.

Helping the maritime industry to make smart decisions about environmental compliance is why we developed Ocean Guardian. It provides up-to-date, verified and vetted global environmental regulatory information for fleet operations and voyage planning purposes.

Launched in 2017, Ocean Guardian was developed as an extension of Total Marine Solutions’ commitment to provide the shipping industry with state-of-the-art solutions that help them operate efficiently and effectively, and to be responsible stewards of the environment. Today, the database has more than 4,100 active and deployed regulations, covering more than 300 countries and territories and 53 special areas and information on more than 2500 ports worldwide.

Although the environmental regulatory data provided via Ocean Guardian’s platform is not privately owned and is publicly available, compiling it into one easily accessible paperless database, along with its ease of application interface, is what makes it an invaluable tool.

Compiling that data has been a collaborative effort. Like Lekas, we use several different feeds of publicly available information – collected from our research and data team, as well as crowd sourced from ports and port authorities worldwide. It is our goal to not only present reliable, verified and vetted data for industry use, but to allow companies to use that data in the way that suites them.

To that end Ocean Guardian is built on a customizable application program interface (API) to be configurable and customizable by the end user. It can be integrated with a ship’s existing systems or be used as a stand-alone offering. The rules portal is also customizable to allow a user to input a company or vessel’s specific guidance, rules or regulations. The goal is to make the industry more efficient and compliant.

Allowing for wider access and use eliminates barriers and increases flexibility allowing the data collected to be used in a way that best suits a client’s needs. It also streamlines operations by bringing voyage planning and environmental operations together to enhance workflow efficiencies, no matter the existing system a client is using.

The industry has been clear that data collaboration is the way of the future. Through the tool our clients have notified our team and thus the greater industry about different interpretations of regulatory documents between ports, shared best practices about compliance in critical areas or ports, terminal discharge facilities, and more. These insights are invaluable not only to the users, but also to the industry as a whole.

The challenges we face and the threats we encounter to our environment are too great to tackle in a vacuum. We believe that when competitors work together, they are better able to solve challenges and prepare for the future.

It is our belief that relevant stakeholders must develop a culture of collaboration in order to create sustainability. Companies must step forward and invest in new technologies and build the future together. A culture of collaboration and sustainability can only be built if we put aside old ways of thinking and take the lead in developing best practices that benefit not only the industry, but the future of our oceans.

When we collaborate, everyone wins!

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