Mandatory Maritime Single Window Symposium

Mandatory Maritime Single Window: One year to go

A window of opportunities  

From 1 January 2024 it will be compulsory for ports around the world to operate Maritime Single Windows (MSWs) for the electronic exchange of information required on ships’ arrival at a port, their stay and their departure. This mandatory change follows the adoption by IMO's Facilitation Committee of amendments to the FAL Convention.   

With this key date in mind, IMO hosted "Maritime Single Window 2024 – A window of opportunities", a two-day Symposium (18-19 January 2023) jointly organized by IMO, IAPH and BIMCO, with the support of the International Port Community Systems Association (IPCSA).  

A host of experts from across the shipping and ports sectors explored how MSWs fit with national digitalization strategies, the best approach to designing and implementing MSWs to suit Member States' maritime trade facilitation objectives and objectives to achieve the greening of shipping.  

Also discussed were the concept of interoperability and understanding how to apply industry standards to harmonize electronic data exchanges, as well as port call data requirements, and the development of strategic partnerships. 

Opening the Symposium at IMO’s London headquarters, IMO Secretary General, Mr Kitack Lim, said that making MSWs mandatory from 1 January 2024 was not only “a significant step towards accelerating digitalization in the maritime trade”, but also “an opportunity for all stakeholders in shipping, and a necessary step forward”.  

Mr Lim said, too, that taking this step would accelerate the digitalization and decarbonization aspirations of international shipping. He praised progress made in recent years by the shipping and port industries and pledged IMO’s support to Member States in finding tangible solutions to the forthcoming new obligations under the FAL Convention 

In his opening remarks IAPH’s President, Subramaniam Karuppiah, warned that COVID-19 pandemic emphasised that the maritime industry is seriously lagging behind in its move to digitalization. Nikolaus Schües, President Designate of BIMCO, sounded an optimistic note, describing MSW as “an opportunity to be exploited and one we cannot afford to miss”.  

  • Please watch a recording of the Day 1 here and Day 2 here
  • Programme: programme here
  • Speakers executive biographies can be found here
  • Photos of the Symposium can be found here
  • Presentations: slides of Panel 5 can be found here.

Shrinking the digital divide through partnership 

A key panel discussion centred on the support that IMO Member States can access to assist them in their MSW implementation journey.  

Periklis Saragiotis from the World Bank and Kate Munn, a consultant, have been working together with Fiji on their MSW project. They backed the approach of “upstream analysis” to assess implementation readiness before making any adaptations or simplifications to systems, thereby avoiding digitizing inefficient procedures.  

Fiji is a good example, said Mr Saragiotis, of the World Bank and IMO cooperating with a Member State. “If we work together and coordinate and try to send a message to the client and government that we’re here to help...that’s a very powerful message.” 

Antigua and Barbuda has received technical expertise in-kind support for their MSW implementation from Norway. They settled on a system developed specifically with small island developing states (SIDS) in mind that can be modified and adopted as required. Wayne Mykoo, representing the Antigua and Barbuda Department of Marine Services and Merchant Shipping said the project underscored IMO’s ability to support Members to meet their obligations.  

Another IMO initiative is that of the Single Window for Facilitation of Trade (SWiFT) Project. Under its auspices, Singapore is implementing a pilot project with Angola to establish a maritime single window platform developed for medium ports based on the system implemented successfully in Antigua and Barbuda.  

Gavin Yeo from Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority summarized where they’ve got to: The project is currently developing prototypes for the Angola team on which they will provide feedback so that improvements can be made during the build process.  

IMO’s e-learning courses offer another form of support. Delegates heard about a one-day modular course that is being constructed to help disseminate knowledge around the benefits of good implementation of a Maritime Single Window. It will be of particular use to developing countries, ports and agencies planning to implement their own MSW, said Jarle Hauge of the Norwegian Coastal Administration, who is putting together the resource. 

Summing up IMO’s broader perspective on where shipping is with its move towards digitalization, Jose Matheickal, Chief of IMO’s Department of Partnerships and Projects (DPP) believes the digital transition is gathering pace in the developed world but developing countries are still to catch up. “Things are not happening the same in the global south as the global north”, he said. He emphasised that the economic and regulatory drivers – in the form of FAL – are in place, and reminded delegates of the contribution to decarbonization that MSWs will bring.  


Easing the administrative burden 

There was widespread agreement during the Symposium that one of the greatest benefits of digitalizing the port call process would be a significant easing of the burden on arrival in port of disseminating information to multiple agencies on shore.  

A session on port call data requirements and data quality outlined the practical challenges of operating in an uncomputerized system and the benefits of moving to a digital one.  

Andreas Van Der Wurff, AP Moller Maersk’s Port Call Optimisation Manager, described how the reporting requirements of multiple agencies detracted from a captain’s core duty: taking care of their crew and cargo. Using the example of having to provide immigration data, dangerous goods data and MARPOL data to several different authorities, he said that being able to harmonize and re-use data by adopting digital solutions would be a great help.  

“Ensure data is only shared once, make use of data that’s there, create a governance system that lasts into the future,” he advised. 

The COVID-19 pandemic saw a necessary increase in digital interactions leading, Mr Van Der Wurff said, to a significant increase in efficiency. Urging the sector to retain the momentum the pandemic had forced upon the sector, he highlighted that greater efficiency brought about by a digitalized port call process also had the important benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  

Ben van Scherpenzeel, Chair of the International Taskforce Port Call Optimization, noted that, once berthed, between 15 and 20 parties might visit a ship to provide services requiring the exchange of a large amount of information before a ship can depart. If that isn’t coordinated, the chance of the ship’s departure being delayed is high. Digitizing the procedure gives visibility of how long the ship will be in port which enables service providers to plan more efficiently.  

One port whose digital transformation is far more advanced than many is Singapore. Gavin Yeo from the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore detailed how they and the port of Rotterdam had successfully increased efficiency by streamlining the administrative process through the digital sharing of harmonized and standardized port call, administrative and operational data along a corridor between the two locations.  

He encouraged those who might feel intimidated by the prospect of embarking on such a transformation to break down the challenges they face into smaller pieces and to focus on one before moving on to the next.  

See the slide presentation that accompanied this session here 


Designing and implementing the right system 

Across the world, ports are at very different stages in their journey towards digitalization. Some have been up and running for years, others are yet to make a start. Each country - each port - might have different issues to deal with, and the Symposium learnt about some of the experiences of those at various stages of the process.  

Warsama Guirreh, General Manager of Djibouti Port’s Community System explained that Djibouti Port handles both his country’s trade by sea and 90% of that of neighbouring Ethiopia, so creating a Maritime Single Window is in the interest of both countries. Hinterland transport – trucks and rail – were recently integrated into their MSW, allowing customers to track their cargo beyond the port.  

Mr Guirreh was clear on the benefits of operating an MSW: improved accuracy and visibility to the whole port community. He said the process of approving declarations had shrunk from a few days to a few hours, and since port clearance requests were digitalized in 2016, the harbour master can finalize the process in less than an hour.  

Philippe Duchesne from the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) described work they are doing to help EU Member States set up a Maritime Single Window. The most important aspect, he said, is standardization. Their benchmark is the IMO Compendium on Facilitation and Electronic Business with which they hope to be fully compliant. 

Nexhat Kapidani from the Administration for Maritime Safety and Port Management of Montenegro, Europe’s youngest state after their independence in 1996, mentioned that it has just two international ports and fewer than 1000 vessels arrive each year. Implementation of their MSW began in 2014 and is ongoing, with the tendering process complete and a contract to deliver the platform signed.  

Guatemala has had support from the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation and other organizations to create their master plan, as it was described by Leonel Molina, Head of Customs and Trade Modernization and Innovation at the Guatemala Customs Administration. They have identified where bottlenecks exist in the current system and are working with the public and private sector to develop a system that will deliver their technological transformation.  

As described by Youssef Ahouzi, Chief Executive Officer of PORTNET S.A., Morocco has measured all sides of the various processes within their ports and developed more than 200 key performance indicators so they can see clearly where the bottlenecks are - for instance, vessels’ waiting times - and work to optimize those operations.  

Sanna Vainionpää, Director of Domain Strategy at the Finnish National Single Window outlined Finland’s national standalone system owned by the government. It is currently being further developed from a purely regulatory system to one which will combine MSW with value added services such as goods declarations.  

Peru has operated a national Single Window since 2010 so development there of a Maritime Single Window takes advantage of previously developed frameworks and experience. Each port along the country’s lengthy coastline deals with different kinds of cargo – containers, mixed, or fuel, for instance. Joana Alvarez, MSW project manager at Peru’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism, explained how their MSW must accommodate the varying data collection and sharing requirements of each different port authority.  


Progress through pragmatism 

A decision by the Dutch authorities to go paperless was the trigger to build a port community system in The Netherlands, but it was deemed the wrong time to incorporate the Maritime Single Window into that system. Mees van der Wiel, Business Consultant Strategy & Innovation, Portbase, said that now it would be good for the two systems to cooperate more. And he highlighted the challenges that compliance with European regulations presents around data sharing.  

When asked about the importance of the type of MSW structure that is set up, Eugene Seah, Chief Operating Officer at Baku International Sea Trade Port, responded that it is the functionalities it encompasses that matters more than the structure itself. Port Baku’s platform is growing to integrate with customs and the railways to enable better all-round planning at the port. He stressed that both recent geopolitical events and the global pandemic have heightened the impetus to create a Maritime Single Window in Baku.  

Regardless of the type of system, panelists agreed that a successful MSW project requires getting all relevant stakeholders on board – a “coalition of the willing”, as Matthew Bradley, Managing Director at CNS, a DP World group company, described it. He advocated customising or adapting existing infrastructure and piloting the MSW before its full implementation.  

Other tips included bringing designs into production early, taking on board feedback from those using the system and being agile enough to adapt the technology as it develops.  

Periklis Saragiotis from the World Bank, acting as moderator concluded with this thought: “As long as maritime stakeholders see it as an opportunity and move away from seeing it as a compliance issue it will free their minds”. 


MSWs and the bigger picture  

Citing an IAPH survey from 2020 which showed only 34% of ports as being compliant with the FAL Convention, Martin Humphreys, the World Bank’s Global Lead on Transport Connectivity and Regional Integration, described the slow progress towards digitalization as “a major development challenge akin to decarbonization”, adding, “If you’re on the wrong side of the divide you will be disadvantaged”.  

This was supported by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore’s David Foo who asserted that the Maritime Single Window was “a game changer” for Singapore. He said that without the MSW “we would have come out of the pandemic in very bad shape”.  

Describing his comments as a call to action, Mr Foo went on, “The case for adopting MSW is very clear, whether for big or small ports. You need to start now.” He observed that, whilst implementing Single Windows is not easy, it was often not the technology hindering progress but cultural change, a point echoed by others during the Symposium.  

BIMCO’s Grant Hunter acknowledged the size of the challenge, stating that “you cannot separate digitalization from decarbonization”. He called for all port stakeholders to work together to overcome technological disparities and share the technology to make MSWs work.  

Mr Hunter said, “We have the tools to make the shipping industry much more efficient. We have the technology and the data. Everyone likes the idea of sharing data – as long as it’s not theirs. We need to feel comfortable in sharing data because it will bring many benefits. Fundamentally we have to trust each other”. 


Aligning standards and practises 

A common theme was the importance of collaboration and interoperability of systems. In a session that focused on the need for robust industry standards to harmonize electronic data exchange, Jeppe Skovbakke Juhl of BIMCO said that the IMO Compendium has given a stronger, bottom-up approach to the implementation of MSW than had been the case in the past.  

The Compendium consists of an IMO Data Set and IMO Reference Data Model agreed by the main organizations involved in the development of standards for the electronic exchange of information related to the FAL Convention. Nico de Cauwer from the Port of Antwerp-Bruge described it as “the overarching shell of everything to do with trade of cargo”. 

It was due to what he saw as an unhelpful diversity of standards that Thomas Bagge formed the Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA) in 2019. As an example, he explained that at that time the organization’s nine members shared six different definitions of when a ship arrived in port. With a McKinsey study having shown the maritime industry as 19th out of 22 in terms of digitalization, he described the challenge facing the sector as “dramatic”. Having agreed standards in place facilitates frictionless trade, he noted, resulting in in a better customer experience.  

Joining the conference remotely, Juan Diego Chavarría Valverde of the World Customs Organization (WCO) promoted the role it plays in aligning maritime standards for MSW. By providing guidance and suggested framing, WCO also helps capacity build for members, he said. 


The cyber security challenge  

One aspect of the MSW digital transformation that was raised a number of times during the two days of debate was that of cyber security and the risks that come with digitalization.  

Nexhat Kapidani of Montenegro’s Administration for Maritime Safety and Port Management voiced his country’ concerns about the security of data following a cyber-attack last year which meant many government systems didn’t work for four months.  

Speaking on behalf of the US Coast Guard, Maritime Cyber Intelligence Manager, Thomas Kalisz advised everyone to work together to share information and identify common threats. Threats in the marine transportation system, he cautioned, are not discreet to individual countries but extend across borders.  

Martin Humphreys from the World Bank agreed building-in adequate safeguards is an important issue and acknowledged that cyber-attacks could shut down ports. And in answer to a question from the conference floor he stated that, whilst not a mandatory requirement, it would be unwise to implement a Single Window system without proper cyber security. 


"MSW is not just a concept” 

In drawing to a close two days of discussion and examination of progress made and that yet to be achieved in the next 12 months when it will become compulsory for ports to have in place a Maritime Single Window, Patrick Verhoeven of IAPH and Jeppe Skovbakke Juhl from BIMCO agreed there were several lessons to be drawn from what they'd heard.   

The greatest challenges are often the analogue ones and to meet those requires building trust and skilled change management. A globally unified standards system is vital but there is no excuse for not starting now to implement your MSW. There is help available from governments and institutions as well as ports which have valuable experience. The deadline to comply with MSW implementation is set but, as well as a matter of compliance, it should be seen as an opportunity. Pragmatism should be a fundamental element when designing a system: start small and build incrementally on effective infrastructure already in place.  

Jeppe Skovbakke Juhl summed up the value of the Symposium: “We have a better understanding of where we are and where we need to go. MSW is not just a concept. It’s here and we’re ready to go.” 

See more information about the Symposium, 'Maritime Single Window 2024 – A window of opportunities' here