It was a pleasure to attend the Smart Maritime Network (SMN) Conference in the heart of European Shipping, Rotterdam, and aboard the historic vessel SS Rotterdam, a fitting location. With a view to the future, many of the day’s presentations and discussions focused decarbonization in shipping and the increasingly important role of digitalization in meeting the IMO’s target of Net Zero GHG by 2050. For the conference chair this was not soon enough and the ‘dot on the horizon’ the industry should be aiming for is net-zero by 2040.

It was clear at the event that a huge amount of work has been undertaken to further accelerate digitalization in shipping, but several challenges remain, for example the industry’s siloed approach towards data standardization and sharing. The other message is that work needs to continue to achieve ambitious decarbonization targets. Every advancement in technology plays a vital role in improving efficiency and optimization, including both the larger developments and the easy, low-cost quick wins. Retrofitting a vessel with new technology, for example, can provide efficiency benefits here and now, maximizing the current assets’ ROI and accelerating digitalization. As digitalization progresses, the number of stakeholders involved grows. The SMN conference was a great platform for bringing together stakeholders across the maritime digitalization value chain. Attendees included CIOs of large ship operators, freight handlers, retail giants, IT directors, port authorities, customs, software providers, satellite operators, hardware manufacturers, service providers, cyber security vendors, shipowners’ associations, shipbuilders and more. All these actors are working with data to provide insights and tangible results to ship owners and charterers. With the recent announcement that seafarers’ groups have won the right to mandatory social connectivity for crews and a commitment to better social connectivity for seafarers, crew welfare was another key topic discussed. This development is an important step forwards but there is much more to be done. Seafarers should be able to use digital technologies onboard in the same way onshore staff can work, fully connected, remotely. User experience plays a key role in the adoption of technology and, while we can automate processes and even vessels, there still needs to be human interaction. Plus, as many new technologies are reliant on interaction with cloud-based services or data exchange with shoreside servers, having rapid and reliable connectivity onboard remains critical. In order to overcome a lot of the challenges facing digital shipping, it is clear vessel connectivity needs to continue to improve. But progress is being made. At the event, Euroconsult presented data from its latest report titled ‘Reviewing the Maritime Satellite Connectivity Market 2022’. It found that there is continued adoption of VSAT technology onboard vessels, with terminal installations increasing. Including a view on the use of hybrid connectivity for vessels and the adoption of multiple connectivity services onboard would have also been interesting.

Alongside our valued partners, we looked at hybrid connectivity in more detail at SMN Rotterdam in our roundtable discussion with Chris Schonhut, End-User Engagement Manager at Cobham Satcom. Please feel free to reach out to him for more information.

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