In the maritime sector, as in other infrastructure sectors, advances in technology have improved marine navigation, communication, shipping efficiency and safety, improving the overall efficiency of the sector. At the Smart Port Challenge 2022, Chee Hong Tat, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Transport, Singapore, discussed the importance of technology and innovation in the port sector and deliberated on how it would help solve maritime challenges. Excerpts…

Importance of technology and innovation

Technology and innovation are critical for solving the challenges faced in the maritime industry. For example, the Covid-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance of ports to be resilient and agile in order to deal with global supply chain disruptions. Port operators need to leverage technology and data to optimise processes, improve efficiency with just-in-time marine services, and develop smarter supply chain solutions. Other key challenges for the maritime sector that can be tackled with technology are environmental sustainability, climate change and decarbonisation. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from international shipping account for about 3 per cent of global emissions. As a leading maritime hub, Singapore intends to support and enable global efforts to reduce carbon emissions and build a greener and more sustainable maritime future. This will require long-term investments and close collaboration between the public and private sectors in areas such as electrification, sustainable fuels and carbon abatement.

With the right approach, challenges can be turned into opportunities. When companies innovate and workers are trained in new skills, it helps develop solutions for sustainability and decarbonisation. The solutions, once implemented properly, could be scaled to the Singapore region and beyond.

Singapore as a centre for maritime innovation

Singapore is an optimal location for maritime innovation and development. Not only is the country strong in research and development, but it is also home to the world’s busiest transhipment port. It also has a leading International Maritime Centre with interrelated services, home to over 150 of the world’s largest international shipping groups, and more than 5,000 maritime organisations, spanning functions such as shipping, maritime law, maritime finance, and maritime technology. These provide an excellent and conducive environment for start-ups to work with maritime companies.

The marine ecosystem in Singapore is appropriate for tackling practical problem statements, and pilot and test-bed proposed solutions using the Port of Singapore as a living lab. If companies are able to demonstrate that their solutions work well in Singapore’s busy port waters and complex maritime ecosystem, it is a clear vote of confidence recognised by the rest of the world. Singapore is committed to supporting marinetech innovation and has undertaken a string of initiatives to enable innovation in the maritime sector. In 2021, the Global Centre for Maritime Decarbonisation (GCMD) was launched. The GCMD brings together public and private players to catalyse collaborative projects to advance the deployment of low- and zero-carbon solutions in the maritime industry.

In September 2022, Singapore officially opened Tuas Port. When complete in the 2040s, Tuas Port will be the world’s largest fully automated port, with sustainability as a key feature. Port equipment like yard cranes and prime mover vehicles will be automated and powered by green energy sources such as green electricity and hydrogen-powered fuel cells. The port will also have green buildings, smart grid solutions and battery energy storage systems. These represent exciting opportunities for maritime innovation. By 2025, Singapore will be the first country in the world to have full 5G coverage across its port waters, opening possibilities for testing and deployment of remotely controlled ships, autonomous vessels, and other maritime innovations. Even though Singapore is not the first country to start 5G, because of its compact nature and geographical area, it will be able to provide 5G across the entire port waters, which will be a first in the world.

Strengthening partnerships

Singapore is also building partnerships with like-minded ports around the world. Earlier in 2022, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) signed a memorandum of understanding with the Port of Rotterdam. It has also embarked on discussions with the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach on the establishment of green and digital shipping corridors. These corridors will focus on the implementation of low- and zero-carbon bunkering fuels, and the use of digital tools to enhance decarbonisation efforts in shipping and trial solutions for the international maritime community.

Importantly, development of corridors provides a means to track and measure such efforts, thereby strengthening the confidence of regulators, international organisations like the International Maritime Organisation, and maritime companies. The country also supports PIER71TM, which provides an ecosystem, regular workshops, and initiatives to link promising start-ups with companies.The joint efforts of the stakeholders in the maritime innovation ecosystem have contributed to Singapore being ranked as the Top Maritime Technology Hub in “The Leading Maritime Cities of the World” Report 2022, by DNV and Menon Economics. Even though significant progress has been made in Singapore’s maritime sector and there are a lot of ongoing initiatives, it is essential that the country continues its research and progress. The idea is to work together not to compete but to accelerate the development of the maritime sector in areas such as climate change and decarbonisation.

To further advance efforts in the area, MPA and the Singapore Shipping Association (SSA) have signed a partnership agreement to formalise SSA’s support for PIER71TM’s startups. The partnership will provide PIER71TM’s start-ups with greater opportunities to receive mentorships from SSA domain experts to help validate their problem statements and solutions; and be supported by the Association in sourcing for trials and testbedding opportunities amongst SSA’s members. It is expected that this partnership will allow PIER71TM start-ups to access a wider network of SSA’s member companies and industry partners, and speed up their growth journey and scale up their operations in Singapore and beyond.

Start-ups in Singapore are working to develop innovative solutions focused on areas such as alternative fuels, management platforms, artificial systems, and smart devices. Some of the start-ups have developed a Maritime Control Centre integrated communications platform for shipping lines. Another start-up has installed a real-time early detection system for marine fuel quality on a bunker tanker, providing continuous monitoring of fuel quality. Start-up systems and competitions work as launchpads where business ideas can be deliberated on, and companies can showcase their capabilities and solutions to various maritime industry representatives.