High-quality data could help to solve many of the container shipping sector’s challenges, whether environmental or safety-related
The container shipping sector is seeing more incidents involving onboard fires, engine failures and container cargo losses. Many of these could be avoided if more operational, environmental and cargo-related data was available across the supply chain and on board container ships.
These were the main themes examined by a panel of experts during Riviera’s Container ship safety by design, not by accident webinar. This event, sponsored by Campbell Johnston Clark, was held on 10 February 2021 during Riviera’s Container Shipping Webinar Week.
Panellists discussing safety and data implications were Liberian Registry senior vice president for maritime operations Thomas Klenum, TT Club risk management director Peregrine Storrs Fox, Campbell Johnston Clark director Andrew Gray and DNV GL Container Ship Excellence Centre head Holger Jefferies.
Mr Gray highlighted key safety issues, saying more than 1,300 containers on average are lost overboard per year due to inadequate storage, lashings and ships sailing in adverse weather conditions. “Of the 260M containers transported each year, on average 1,382 were lost annually over the last 12 years,” he said.
On top of this, there is at least one fire each week on a container ship. “Every 60 days there is a major incident,” said Mr Gray. The principal causes are “nondeclaration and misdeclaration of dangerous goods and inadequate fire-fighting systems,” he explained.
The webinar panel agreed access to higher quality data and its analysis would help reduce fire risk, engine issues and cargo losses. Mr Klenum said better data on cargo, including cases of misdeclared hazardous materials or dangerous cargo, would reduce fire risk.
Mr Fox said it was the responsibility of all stakeholders across the supply chain to ensure there is high-quality data and information on cargo. He wants suppliers and intermediaries to ensure “data is accurate, complete, appropriate and timely”.
Mr Fox said there is a considerable lack of knowledge in the supply chain. “It is crucial to have scientific knowledge and data” of cargo constituents to avoid misdeclaration.
Throughout the supply chain, there needs to be trust and transparency, which comes from quality data and processes, he said. This includes customer knowledge and enforcement if necessary.
Other digital and automatic processes can reduce the risk of misdeclared cargo. “Automated cargo screening would mean carriers could check and use machine learning for layered approaches,” said Mr Fox, “they could create alerts to be followed up”.
Software could be used to improve dangerous goods compliance and documentation.
At terminals, X-ray and computed tomography scanning could be introduced “to identify what is in containers and support inspections” by national and port authorities.
Mr Fox also said internet of things (IoT) would enable better monitoring and tracking of containers and the cargo within them. “IoT could tell carriers where in a container stack there is a fire,” said Mr Fox.
Mr Gray suggested artificial intelligence (AI) could be adopted to identify misdeclarations, while blockchains could improve information flow and “put pressure on rogue shippers to prevent them endangering lives,” he said.
DNV GL’s Mr Jefferies highlighted how container ship fire detection and fighting systems need to be improved. It has introduced class notations, with FCS(X) for additional fire safety for container ships; for ships in operation, it offers FCS (C) for enhanced fire safety levels with minor add-ons; FCS (HA) for hazard identification assessments; and FCS (HF) for fire extinguishing via cargo hold flooding.
There are additional class notations available for newbuildings. “Vessels can have thermal cameras on the bridge and funnels to detect issues and potential fires,” said Mr Jefferies. This would enable overheated or burning containers to be detected at an early stage.
Iridium Communications introduced Edge Solar remote asset trackers in January 2021 to monitor container and vessel movements. These small trackers, powered by solar energy, are maintenance-free and secure.
Trackers enable two-way communications for real-time data transmissions over Iridium’s global L-band satellite connectivity. Their signals are transmitted over a constellation of 66 low Earth orbit satellites with low latency for rapid communications.
These sensors can be customised and deployed in a network using Bluetooth low energy (BLE) technology to track machinery, vessels and containers. “The addition of BLE local wireless connectivity adds a new level of customisability for applications requiring multiple and disparate sensor readings,” said Iridium executive vice president for sales and marketing Bryan Hartin.
Iridium Edge Solar encapsulates all required electronics in a military-grade ruggedised package and an intelligent dual-power system maintaining two-way communications delivery even in low-light conditions.
Iridium said these devices would last 10 years without maintenance. They can be combined with Iridium CloudConnect and back-office integration through Amazon Web Services to integrate into company IoT tracking and monitoring systems.
In December 2020, Iridium launched its first commercial Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) service, providing emergency communications over its US$3Bn Next satellite constellation. GMDSS is an internationally regulated service, governed by IMO’s SOLAS convention. It provides life-saving assistance to seafarers in distress and has equipment on board more than 60,000 ships. In 2020, Iridium introduced a series of Iridium Certus L-band communications services, with the latest offering 176 kbps on the uplink and downlink using 0.7 kg antennas.
One solution for preventing lost containers is to improve lashings. But operators should also review voyage plans to ensure ships are not sailing into dangerous weather and sea conditions.
Weather routeing solutions provide forecast information and suggest optimised routes for avoiding adverse conditions, which on the evidence from recent container losses, some operators and owners appear to require.
In January 2021, Maersk Essen spilled up to 750 boxes into the northern Pacific Ocean. At the end of December, Evergreen Marine container ship Ever Liberal lost 36 containers in storm conditions, 20 nautical miles off Japan. Another 21 container were damaged as the stack collapsed. In Q4 2020, container ships ONE Apus and ONE Aquila lost or damaged hundreds of containers due to gale-force winds and large swells caused by heavy weather in the northern Pacific.
Wärtsilä Voyage Solutions director of automation and dynamic positioning systems Thomas Pedersen said weather routeing would prevent many of these accidents.
“We offer full-scale weather routeing through ECDIS to improve safety, with forecasts and information for safe and viable routes,” he told Container Shipping & Trade. “We have live weather, traffic and routeing information.”
Mr Pedersen also said using AI and autonomous navigation technology would improve container ship safety. “During long transits, Europe to Americas and across the Pacific, seafarers spend a lot of time on bridge watchkeeping,” he said. “Our technology has the capability of doing this much better and more efficiently.”
By automating some of the navigation functions with collision and weather avoidance technology, owners could reduce risk and enable seafarers to concentrate on other aspects of operations.
DTN senior vice president for weather Mike Eilts agreed advances in metocean data and technology can help operators reduce, or possibly avoid cargo losses. “Weather is the fuel of the future,” he said. “Mariners have always relied on, or been at the mercy of, weather. Now, with a powerful combination of data science and weather insights, seafarers can use weather to optimise their shipping operations and keep their crews and cargo safe.”
The next innovation emerging for safe seakeeping is vessel motion forecasting, Mr Eilts noted. “Rolling is one of the main causes of container damage and loss,” he said. “A ship severely rolling due to a combination of the timing of waves passing through the vessel and the ship’s natural roll parameter can cause cargo damage, lost cargo, and in extreme cases, capsize the ship.”
This parametric rolling can particularly affect container ships due to their design, hull size, wide beam and maximum cargo capacity. Vessel motion forecasting combines atmospheric, oceanic and wave spectra to predict the ship’s motions, such as pitch, roll and the impact of the waves minutes before it occurs.
“It can optimise the vessel’s performance during the voyage and aid in critical seakeeping decisions when confronting choppy seas,” said Mr Eilts. “With the right data and insights, container shipping will have the best operational intelligence to reduce incidents that threaten cargo or crew safety.”
JIT port arrival
ECDIS, combined with port and voyage data, can also be used to optimise routes so container ships reach terminals at the optimum time for their docking, while minimising fuel consumption. This just-in-time (JIT) port arrival is being considered by IMO based on successful trials undertaken by Hamburg Vessel Coordination Centre (HVCC) with partners including Wärtsilä Voyage.
HVCC managing director Gerald Hirt shared the Port of Hamburg’s best practice guide for JIT arrivals during Riviera’s Just-in-Time (JIT) operations: a loaded issue for bulk carriers webinar on 29 January.
HVCC handles traffic planning for large vessels and co-ordinates feeder container ships in the port. Its communication channels enable terminals, carriers and agents to exchange data on their plans. By facilitating data exchange via a digital port collaboration platform, HVCC can identify any conflict in different operational plans and discuss these issues with the Hamburg Port Authority.
Mr Hirt said HVCC provides inbound passage plans to carriers before the vessels arrive in Hamburg. These are recommendations and include suggested speed, time of arrival, tidal and wind conditions and traffic levels.
In addition to the JIT arrival, Mr Hirt said “carriers will benefit from an optimised passage arrival and increased bunker savings”. Port call optimisation will improve the efficiency of port infrastructure.
Mr Pedersen agreed, “There are great opportunities. Ships and ports can optimise as one operation instead of ports being separate from vessels,” he said. “It would cut congestion at container terminals.”
Data would be transferred using ECDIS on vessels and vessel traffic systems in ports.
“Doing this co-ordination at an early stage means controlling vessel arrivals and ship speeds, ensuring vessels meet the estimated port docking time,” said Mr Pedersen.