9th Edition of the e-Navigation Underway International Conference - “Paving the Way for a Digital Maritime World” Copenhagen, Denmark

9th Edition of the e-Navigation Underway International Conference
“Paving the Way for a Digital Maritime World”
6 February 2019, Copenhagen, Denmark

Ladies and gentlemen,

“As shipping moves into the digital world, E-navigation is expected to provide digital information and infrastructure for the benefit of maritime safety, security and protection of the marine environment, reducing the administrative burden and increasing the efficiency of maritime trade and transport.”

Let me clarify straight away that those are not my words. But, hopefully they will sound familiar to many of you. Because that is the opening sentence of IMO’s E-navigation strategy. I think it sums up very effectively why so many people are so excited about the prospect of E-navigation and, in a wider sense, of how greater automation, artificial intelligence and digital technology in general seem set to transform shipping and transport –for the better.

For me, this conference has a special significance, because I gave my first ever public speech as Secretary-General of IMO to the 2016 edition of “E-navigation underway”. I said on that occasion that “E-navigation is the future; but it has been “the future” for a long time now.”

For IMO, this is especially true. I think this is one area where we really were ahead of the curve. It was as long ago as 2006 that IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee agreed on the process of developing a regulatory framework for E-navigation. Subsequently an E-navigation plan was adopted in 2014 and this was revised and updated just last year.

Of course, most of the building blocks for E-navigation in shipping are already in place – and have been for many years. Electronic position fixing, electronic charts, collision-avoidance radar and auto-pilots capable of controlling both direction and speed have been with us for 20 years or more.

IMO’s E-navigation strategy is about harmonising, standardising and integrating the way information between these and other systems, both on board and ashore, is shared and presented.

But how does all this fit into the bigger picture? In a world where digital technology is transforming every aspect of our lives, how can shipping take advantage?

Today, the concept of E-navigation must be viewed through the lens of increasing autonomy in many different aspects of shipping. Widespread use of autonomous vessels or smart ships used to be something that only far-sighted visionaries or futurists would talk about. Today, it is widely believed that their impending arrival is very close. Digital disruption is expected to arrive in the shipping world very soon. Artificial intelligence, “big data”, automation and the “internet of things” will have a profound impact on shipping – not just in terms of navigation but across the full spectrum of ship operation and the logistics chain.

At IMO, we are actively preparing for this. Both the Legal and the Maritime Safety Committees are currently assessing existing IMO instruments to see how they might apply to ships with varying degrees of automation. The aim is to complete this scoping exercise in 2020,  we are alreadylooking at developing guidelines for trials of autonomous vessels – which will be absolutely essential for shipping to embrace this new world.

So, when it comes to “Paving the Way for a Digital Maritime World”, which this conference sets out to address, you can see that IMO is not just actively engaged, but leading the global coordination on the subject.

For me, that sends a very important signal to governments and to the maritime community as a whole. IMO is the one, single, institution that has the technical, operational and legal competences needed to define and regulate an overarching framework for incorporating the digital revolution into shipping – and that, of course, includes E-navigation.

This doesn’t mean that IMO has to carry out all the relevant tasks itself – as this conference will clearly show, there are other stakeholders which are, quite properly, taking the lead in many different areas, according to their competence and expertise.

But IMO is the only organization capable of meeting the overall governance requirement for shipping in the future – whatever it may look like.

But what will it look like? From here, the possibilities seem endless. New players, including the digital giants like Google, are getting involved, developing "smart ship" concepts that could revolutionise how ships are designed, built and operated; Rolls Royce has put forward its vision of multi-ship fleets, without crews, being controlled remotely from a central location. Ship owners, say Rolls Royce, will be able optimise operations and maximise returns by pooling data from individual ships to identify the best combination of route, cargo, maintenance schedule and fuel price across their fleet as a whole.

It is without doubt an exciting time to be in shipping and logistics. The only real certainties are that the next 10 or 20 years will see as much change in shipping as we have experienced in the past 100 years; and that whatever form these ships of the future eventually take, they will have to be at least as safe and environment-friendly as today's vessels. At least.

Technology and data hold the key to a safer and more sustainable future for shipping. Thanks to new technology emerging in so many areas – not just E-navigation but also clean fuel and renewable energy, smart sensors, robotics, AI and new materials and construction techniques, shipping is entering a new era.

But I think it’s important that changes in shipping are not driven by technology. Technology should be driven by the needs of the users and, even more importantly, of their customers. By that I mean that global society’s increasingly demanding expectations around safety, the environment and social responsibility should both drive the development of new technology and, at the same time, provide the basis for the necessary checks and balances.

Ladies and gentlemen, at this conference, you will dig deep into some of the key questions that need to be addressed as shipping moves into this new era: what are the benefits and barriers for first movers? What is required from E-navigation solutions to prepare for a future with autonomous and smart shipping? How will all of this impact regulations and standards?

To make sure that shipping gets full benefit from the digital revolution without compromising safety and environmental performance requires collaboration from a very wide range of stakeholders. This is achieved through the dialogue and knowledge-sharing at events like this.

The Danish Maritime Authority and IALA are to be commended for organising this event once again. Since the first edition in 2011, it has really helped to chart the course for the future in this pivotal arena for the shipping industry of the future.

Thank you.