Two ships made front-page news this week, possibly in the worst of circumstances. One perilous vessel carried a dangerous cargo of ammonia nitrate into Beirut port, eventually leading to devastating consequences, scarring a city for decades to come. The other failed to navigate the waters of the Indian Ocean and was grounded in Mauritius, resulting in a horrific oil spill.
While there are seven years and two continents between the arrival of both ships to their final destinations, together they act as an ill-fated reminder that what happens at sea can have a ripple effect that stretches onshore to the public and the economy.
These two incidents do have something in common: Both ships could have been diverted away before arrival, as signals indicating they may become a risk existed hours and days before.
Wakashio, the 300-meter bulk carrier now grounded and spilling oil in Mauritius, was just one of over 2,000 ships that crossed the Mauritius Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the past 30 days. The Indian Ocean is home to some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, including the one stretching from the Cape of Good Hope towards the Malacca Strait, crossing Mauritius, Reunion and Madagascar.
While it is impossible to determine the Wakashio is going to be grounded, it did show some signals that indicated it is more likely to than most other ships. For example, it wasn’t familiar with the region – this was the first time it crossed the Indian Ocean in nearly three years. More importantly, it was sailing outside the common sailing lanes and towards the Island at least 12 hours before being grounded.
Either one of these would have provided valid motivation to proactively contact the ship beforehand and suggest better navigational standards. Flagging the handful of ships that are of higher risk starts by looking at what technology can provide rather than letting humans grapple with the traditional ways of doing things. This is not solely to make the operations and activities more efficient but to enable both governments and business to use the vast amount of data and resources available today to not react after a disaster, but to prevent them from happening in the first place.
Maritime can learn a lot from the airline industry, which has by necessity matured quicker in their technological adoption. The attitude of ‘we didn’t know, didn’t have the data at hand’ can no longer be an excuse in a world permeated by data, where the intelligence and knowledge exist to equip decision-makers with valuable predictive intelligence.
To maximize the potential and impact of any technology requires a new mindset of collaboration and foresight, to create an environment where you work preemptively, together to maximize the knowledge and minimize the long term impact. According to WEF, governments can partner with investors and entrepreneurs to create the infrastructure, policy, and talent needed for thriving “innovation ecosystems”.
Today in a transparent, collaborative industry, we have the opportunity to not only affect today but to create a movement of change, and drive the digital transformation of maritime. This is an opportunity for the maritime ecosystem to raise the standard and become the drivers of change on a global scale.