The next chapter in Shipping: A new era of Ship Managers in the age of digitalization

Shipping markets have become a lot more complex in recent years with companies faced with intense competition and a plethora of numerous, many times restricting, regulations to comply with. Digitalization has affected many industries in the past years, however the shipping industry is one of the latest to grapple with digitalization mainly due to the complexities of the industry itself.

 Although an industry which is still deeply traditional, technology in the maritime industry is rapidly changing and many different innovations, solutions and principles are proposed and gradually integrated within shipping such as:

 - Sustainable shipping from an ecological perspective

- Alternative fuels like LNG and biofuels

- Emission reduction of carbon footprints

- Unmanned and autonomous ships

- Big data analytics

- Networks of wireless sensors

- Ship to shore Communications

- Robotics and other artificial intelligence systems

 Therefore the challenge ahead is to achieve the best possible integration of future systems technologies and integrate them with existing systems in place, in order to successfully tackle these issues.

The extensive implementation of information technologies – digital shipping including satellites and telematic devices – and the application of management principles would be the next step towards the modernization of shipping.

 There have been numerous discussions regarding the Ship of the Future. There seems to be little focus however on the fact that the ship of the future can not operate with a ship manager of the past. Therefore, the Ship Manager of the future would be a company fully equipped to handle the challenges that digitalization brings.

This would further require setting up and developing real time control centers to manage these smart ships and instruct/guide them to increase and improve things such as:

 - Voyage efficiency, by adjusting the operation parameters and settings to improve speed & consumption

 - Safety, by alerting the crew for any possible upcoming risks or other issues

- Ability to control the ship from a central position thus decreasing the number of crew members needed on a ship and reducing labor costs.

 We have moved from the industrial age to the digital age with a huge leap in technological development. Data is collected on the go and processed intelligently. This allows for a whole new quality and type of communication where time and space are recalibrated[1].

The effects of the digital revolution have been felt in the way we think and operate has changed with the use of smart phones, while transforming traditional business models. However the prerequisite in order to attain the gradual upgrade of shipping to the so called “smart” business model of the future as described above will be the drastic change of the cultural mentality of the human resources in order to make the above principles workable.

 Therefore an obvious challenge for the future of shipping is in fact the upgrading of the culture of the human factor involved in the maritime industry. 

This will require the further introduction of new specialties, to be incorporated to the existing structure of the shipping company, tasked with overall digital upgrade and the performance of the ship manager. Naturally, these positions as well as the various roles that they take on, will vary based on the complexities of the operations, the size of the fleet managed and the quality and skillset of the existing personnel.

Some of the positions that arise may be fairly obvious, some may already exist in shipping companies, however some may be more specific and relating to very precise, technical mostly, skills required.

At this point, I would like to briefly mention what defines big data. It isn’t the size of the database, but the type of database and its uses. Some but not all defining features of big data are


Big data is flexible data. In the past all specific type of databases stored and controlled data with the use of constant data structures, this isn’t the case with big data. Fast data transformation is a crucial part of the use big data.

Real-time results

All data is collected and has the ability to be stored in real time, one of the most important components and uses of this type of data.

Machine learning applications

Machine learning which we will be discussing a bit further is one of the cornerstones of the importance of big data, allowing the data collected to become predictive.

An interesting point to note is that some of these innovations apply to various departments of the maritime industry. Some examples are

Machine learning techniques

Various machine learning techniques are applied in shipping for monitoring the energy efficiency, faults diagnostics and predictive maintenance in order to achieve the most efficient vessel’s performance. This can be done by creating a big dataset and developing machine learning algorithms to understand the relations between those datasets. These machine learning techniques can be viewed as another way of programming to detect the development of actual engineering phenomena by monitoring the evolution of the readings taken from sensors.

Furthermore, the so called “predictive” maintenance can be implemented by comparing the remaining useful life of a particular component to its planned maintenance and overhaul schedule.

Big Data Analysis

Analyzing all automation derived data from the vessels to the office in order to evaluate the data collected and put them to the best use depending on the specific departments.  

Artificial Neural Networks

Artificial neural networks haven't come close to modeling the complexity of the human brain, but they have shown to be good at problems which are easy for a human but difficult for a traditional computer, such as image recognition and predictions based on past knowledge.

 Artificial neural networks are based on mathematical models, simulating the way human brain works. When applied to time series, they provide a sophisticated forecasting method, using either linear or non-linear models. In comparison to other methods, neural networks provide a viable alternative, being at least as accurate and, in many cases, yielding impressive results. Another common difficulty is that only repetitive tests can answer the question of which network to use in each case, as the researcher is faced with a large number of options.

 A few of the uses of Big Data in the Shipping industry are

 Predicting Repairs and Structural Integrity which leads to better planning = Less Time Lost = Lower Costs

Prediction of Port State Control Results allowing for better planning

Self Piloting - Less Room for Human Error (No.1 cause of accidents)

Cargo Tracking which brings better Delivery Estimates - Less Time Lost = Lower Costs

Centralized Knowledge - Better Accuracy for constant changing weather patterns

Current and Future Design of the vessels - Current refers to more efficient and cost effective navigation - Future refers to better and more sufficiently designed ships

Moving on to specific departments affected, at first glance, an obvious department of the Shipping Company that would be affected would be the Information Technology Department.

Information Technology Department

 ·        Full Stack Developer

 Software engineer/Developers who are comfortable working with both back-end and front-end technologies, all levels of software engineering plus hardware engineering that are Involved in development of new and existing software and integration to the company’s IT system in order to serve particular needs of the ship such as dry docking modules, purchase and procurement modules and others.

 ·        Data protection officer / Security Expert

 As the EU moves ahead with its data protection law, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), companies are required to develop positions that will help them comply with the GDPR, which aims to provide digital privacy to those in Europe. One such title is data protection officer. They must be able to analyze data trends and develop plans of action to protect every kind of digitized asset.

·        Cybersecurity Officer

Communications have grown greatly with the use of WiFi and 5G connectivity having created a fully connected ship.  A platform of devices connected to the internet therefore, requires a person to deal with all cyber security issues that may arise. Every project or plan that includes a network or system that connects to a network will need to be offensive less risk assessed and analyzed. This means protection of devices from participating in automated attacks such as DDoS [distributed denial-of-service], or other emerging exploits or botnets. Create a reaction plan in case of an incident and a restoration procedure etc.

·        Automation Architect

Companies seek to automate their data and daily tasks, new challenges arise almost daily that require a human to address them fast. A solid, future-proof automation strategy must be in place which will be scalable, flexible, and comprehensive.

·        Big data and data analytics engineer

The problem with BIG data is not the gathering of data but what companies do with them and how they evaluate them. Big data itself means nothing if there isn’t a person responsible that has specific skills such as sensor data analysis, data center management, predictive analytics, and programming, database management, knowledge of statistical analytic systems, machine learning and predictive analytics and have a strong understanding of the data collection.

·        Innovation manager

An innovations manager is an executive who exclusively follows emerging technology specializing in innovation solutions, whose job is to define and develop new processes, products or services. Skills required are digital strategy, development and user/customer experience, research, data research and operations.

Moving on to the

Technical Department

·        PMS Officer/ Engineer  

An existing position that follows-up, analyzes and evaluates the maintenance records of the ships.

Analyzes available data for the improvement of the maintenance policy of the ships in order to reduce the maintenance and repairs costs. 

·        Performance Engineer

Follow –up and analysis of the performance records sent from the ships.

 Evaluation of the measurements and records received from the ships.

Recommendations and proposals in order to improve the vessel’s performance.

Following up with the engine makers of the developments regarding new systems, evaluation of new energy saving devices.

 Checking the  Implementation of the new ISO 19030[2] standard regarding the Practical methods for measuring changes in ship-specific hull and propeller performance in order to achieve improvements and changes in enhancing environmental and vessel efficiency by checking following performance indicators :

-Effectiveness and performance of drydocking

-In service performance and effectiveness of antifouling systems and others.

·        Advanced Materials Engineer

Although metal will remain a dominant material in the shipping industry, its components will be refined by research development and implementation of advanced materials (known as microscale or nano-scale manipulation materials) for ship structures and new coatings for corrosion protection as well as anti-fouling protection.

 ·         Remote monitoring Engineer

Development and implementation of new generation sensors wireless technologies able to collect data from the ship autonomously and relay them in real time to the company for condition monitoring analysis to improve the overall maintenance of the ship and reduce the need for regular visits on board at remote locations.

 ·        Drone Manager

 During routine maintenance, human inspectors can be replaced by drones in order to achieve reduce cost and increase safety and efficiency. All data collected is then analyzed by an offshore Superintendent. This method of inspection significantly reduces the risk to human life during essential maintenance mostly when it comes to enclosed space entry.

·        Advanced Power and Propulsion Technologies Marine Engineer

Development and application on ships of advanced power generation and propulsion technologies (diesel electric and hybrid propulsion) with alternative fuels, energy saving devices, renewable energy and hybrid power generation units and environmental friendly and commercially cost efficient to cope with the rising fuel costs and fleet over capacity and overtonnaging.

 New Building Projects and Ships Design

·        Design of eco-ships and “green vessels” in order to increase the speed and reduce the consumption. The company explores news ideas and engages in technology partnerships related to environmental performance. Experts in ships automation will be in continuous close contact with innovation teams in order to find new technologies and implement them to the vessels.

For example: Ballast free or Non Ballast Vessels, reduction of CO2 footprint, reduce GHG emissions etc.

 Moving on to the

Operations Department

This is a department where Big Data is and will be extensively used for better voyage efficiency.

 We begin with a

·        Big Data Analyst

 Analysis of data collected from various sources such as oceanographic data, weather data, maritime accidents data, voyages abstracts and cargo operations data sent from the ships and creation of algorithms to correlate the different forms of data in order to improve the ships operation.

Evaluation of the detailed records regarding the sea passage (time, speed, weather, consumption, optimal routing) MRV emission reports, IMO data collection system DCS , cargo operations and cargo sequence , ballasting/deballasting etc in order to check and propose to the management possible improvements regarding the economical operation of the ships.

Development of land-based control centres for remotely monitoring and controlling unmanned ships.

 Control Drone Manager

 Drones are already used to deliver small parcels, urgent spare parts or mail, on board vessels.

 Ship agents in Europe[3] have calculated that using drones, rather than launch boats can help reduce costs by up to 90% for vessel operators and ship managers. This is also better from a safety point of view. Where a traditional launch boats, uses cranes, ropes and climbing crew to deliver parts, a drone are the less labor dependent mode of delivery.

 Moving on to the

Chartering Department

 With the use of Artificial Neural Networks there can be a detection of significant correlations between freight rates that can aid with the possible prediction of freights.


  • Use of vetting platforms

 Rightship is an example of a platform currently using predictive analytics as a way of evaluating a number of issues that may arise on a vessel


  • Use of online freights platforms[4] to enable online e-auctioning from the shippers to compete for the transport of commodities. 

 These innovative shipping platforms invite vessel owners and operators to bid, via a secure and confidential portal, to transport commodities around the world to their global customers. This is a way where essentially a broker is bypassed.

We might also see vessels becoming “Uber of the seas” with ships going around and shippers able to hail the vessels serving their intended route.

Moving on to the

Safety & Quality or ISM Department

 ·        Environmental, Health and Quality Engineer

Follow-up of the new and future regulations regarding environment and marine pollution (CO2,GHG,SOx,NOx,Ballast Water Treatment, use of LNG and hybrid fuels etc).

Evaluation and analysis of the effect of the new and future environmental regulations on shipping.

 Planning all the necessary upgrading and retrofit works for the ships as well as of possible alternative solutions in order to comply with the new and forthcoming regulations in the most cost efficient way.

 ·        Crisis and Media Manager

Responsible to monitor and manage emergency situations on board and ashore.

Dedicated person to manage company’s media and respond to press enquiries.

 ·        Vetting Manager

 As already mentioned in the Chartering department, the use of vetting platforms is extensively used in shipping. This has created the need for in house monitoring of the way the data is collected and processed. 

 Supply/ Purchasing Department

 ·        Collecting data necessary to increase savings. This can be achieved for example by analyzing the following factors:

 1.      Inventory fluctuation and re-supply volume of specific components

2.      Ports of supply and calling frequency to specific ports

 ·        Shipment tracking and real monitoring available through websites and daily data coming about weather forecasting, events, holidays or other factors. All these available data may have a negative influence to a shipment and help us to decision making, reducing delays.

·        Making better use of Marine traffic information available. This can be necessary for better shipment decision making in case there is a lack of information about vessels ETA.

·        Collecting and processing data available from other dept. or vessels necessary for supplier performance indicator and suppliers trustworthy network.

·        Optimize supplying services such as minimize delivery time of major components by analyzing orders statistics and proceed to bulk orders.

 3D Printing technology Expert & Engineer

3D printing for critical spares has been used on board US navy ships for a few years now and with it comes the need for qualified personnel.

There are multitude of applications for 3D printing, like innovation of new products through rapid prototyping and improvement of already existing product designs. It also gives seafarers the opportunity to repair or reproduce obsolete parts on location.

As a general note, 3D printing itself is expected to change the way goods flow to the market, in the container business as well as the transport of raw materials. The potential effect of 3D printing production is reflected in investments in 3D printing technologies by various sectors such as the engineering, automotive and consumer goods sector. [5]

Many items will not have to be shipped as they will be printed on the spot, whereas the commodity traded the digital pattern for the items.

Moving on to the Crew Department

 ·        Marine Personnel Business Analyst

 Responsible to elaborate, keep updated electronic data with current company’s pool together with CVs, certificates and crew readiness and finally contact and employ seamen directly without crew manning agency interval.

      Adjust automate crew planning system

 The classic role of the Crew Manager will be diversified to the below positions:

 1/ Crew Change Operator

Responsible for the crew changes (agents, tickets, visas etc..) . He collaborates with the Marine Personnel Business Analyst to monitor the movements of crew, sharing their location with the crew department (onboard, during joining and repatriation) for the crew safety and avoidance of delays.  

 2/ Crew Performance Evaluator

 Responsible to travel on board the vessels in order to evaluate the performance of crew, to monitor the training needs and to make relevant proposals to the management. He must be a trained negotiator and to act as a family liaison and trauma supporter. Also arranges psychometric tests for people on board and ashore, discusses and evaluates the complaints of the seamen with the aim to improve the quality of the company’s pool. He also keeps and updates the electronic evaluation system of the seamen.

Legal & Insurance Department

 In respect of the digitalisation of the Legal & Insurance sector of the maritime industry some areas will be firstly

Legal databases

 The extensive use of online legal research platforms and other legal databases of commercial law knowledge, from trusted legal sources (arbitration awards, court decisions etc).

 And secondly Insurance

 Blockchain applications may offer various benefits such as :

Smart Insurance cover Contracts (Automated claims, less processing delays and transaction costs)

Increased back end efficiency (Less human error, no data duplication, less processing delays, transaction costs)

Disintermediation (Automatic identity validation, self-executed transactions)

Better pricing and risk assessment (Risk transparency through connected economy)

New types of Insurance (More transparency, less costs)

We will probably see the first cover on blockchain in 2018.

This may offer the benefit of quicker processing, but is open to cyber threats. It remains to be seen whether automatization will benefit the Insurance sector, which requires personal interaction and in-put in difficult situations. The difference between the marine insurance sector and the other insurance sectors is that the vessels move around the globe and go to the risks, while in other sectors the risks come to the asset. 

To summarize

Digitalization, one of the most important issues facing the maritime industry together with decarbonization, is expected to improve business results, by decreasing operating costs while improving the efficiency of operations. It allows for a simplification of procedures and better timing of essential deliveries and maintenance.

 We will see the evolution of shore based control centers within the Ship Management companies when it comes to autonomous ships and qualified personnel to make the most efficient use of the technological advances ahead.

The road isn’t without challenges however, since there are some hotly debated topics that digitalization brings along. One of them is a legal debate of the transfer of responsibility previously held by the vessel, the crew and ultimately the Master, to the Ship Manager and the office staff who now have the ability and the capability to make real time decisions and monitor various types of alerts in the office rather than the ship. Also, online bidding platforms, has caused a surge in people evaluating or reevaluation the need for brokers, their human presence and knowledge in the industry.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, human adaptability will be key to integrating these innovation within existing structures. This means extensive training, which may lead to previously unknown issues as well as risk assessments relating to management of change.

An important paradox to consider however is that although, the human element may appear in instances such as this, to be the weakest link, it is the human element itself whether it is that of mariners, or people that have dedicated their life to this industry, that must not be bypassed by data and numbers, overriding years of experience. Shipping is an industry which many times relies on people thinking outside the box and taking decisions that a system may be incapable of doing.  

It is obvious that while the digital revolution is paving new roads, many hurdles have to be surpassed for a smooth transition in to the future.

Suzanna Laskaridis

Laskaridis Shipping Co. Ltd.

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