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The Blue Economy Series: The Future of Maritime Trade Relies on Business Innovation

international trading, top view of a cargo ship on the ocean

Over many centuries, waterways and oceans have served as crucial routes for international trading. There was less focus on maritime trade with the advances in roadways, trucking systems and containers. But this is changing rapidly as the last few decades have shown tremendous gains for sea trade. In fact, 80 percent of all goods traded today is through sea trade. And this volume will double in the next twenty years.

In 1955, the volume of maritime trade was roughly eight million tons of cargo annually. By 2007, this figure had reached eight billion tons, and today approaches 11 billion tons. While this expansion is exciting, a number of challenges face sea trade currently causing notable problems. In addition to sea trade congestion, issues related to transport efficiency and communications are formidable. Likewise, environmental concerns remain at the top of the list as well. If maritime trade is to realize its potential role in international trading, innovations will certainly be required.

Startup Innovations in Maritime Trade – Modernizing an Old System

As noted, a number of problems face sea trade and international trading along waterways and the oceans. Poor logistics and inefficiencies both within maritime trade systems and in connection with other transportation industries are abundant. Traffic and congestion, particularly among major ports, are increasing as sea trade rises. And with over 800 million tons of CO2 emissions annually, maritime trade owns its share of environmental issues. However, a number of innovative startups are advancing solutions to address these issues. The following offers a list of some of the more novel ideas that companies pursue today.

  • Portchain – Three McKinsey project managers founded this Copenhagen-based company. They were all knowledgeable about maritime trade inefficiencies.  Lack of information access and miscommunications plagued the system. So, they created a platform that enabled the use of artificial intelligence in operational decision-making. As a result, carrier and terminal planners at ports are better able to share information resulting in marked efficiency improvements. Information regarding vessel characteristics, port, and terminal data, and third-party availability are all shared. As a result, traffic congestion and transit times are much improved.
  • Ocean Alpha – Founded in 2010, this China-based startup is the nation’s leader in unmanned surface vessels. Initially using drone-like technologies, the company now operates in 18 countries across five continents. It also has over 25 models of autonomous ocean vessels that conduct hydrological surveys and other maritime trade operations. In addition, Ocean Alpha is well-funded through Chinese investors and has been valuated at $780 million. Its eventual target is to utilize AI in developing autonomous container vessels for global maritime trade. And by reducing costs, increasing efficiencies, and enhancing human safety, this startup will likely succeed.
  • 1-Stop Connections – Improving communications and efficiencies within ports and throughout maritime trade routes is important. But at the same time, there is also a need to extend these efficiencies throughout all international trading logistics. With this in mind, 1-Stop Connections has developed an integrated AI platform to streamline intermodal transportation. That means information is shared not only among terminal and carrier planners but also with trucking companies, road systems, and rail. This platform allows stakeholders to see shipping schedules real-time and track specific containers. As a result, the entire logistics supply chain is improved beginning with maritime trade connections.
  • Watertruck+ – Supported by Motorways of the Sea, a European Union initiative, this company is bringing back small waterways. The “watertrucks” consist of small barge-like structures that can navigate smaller waterways thus providing alternatives to roads and rail. By making these transport vessels light and maneuverable, yet able to handle reasonable cargo loads, efficiencies are realized. And the vessel that pushes these small barges runs on alternative energy fuels rather than diesel and oil. Thus, in addition to offering better use of maritime infrastructures, it offers a great solution for environmental issues also.
  • Crux Systems – This startup is based in San Francisco where CEO Erik Klein identified the need to connect maritime trade entities with land-based freight systems. Using a cloud-based platform and application programming interfaces, Crux Systems provides real-time container data. And it does so for cargo owners, freight forwarders, trucking companies, and sea trade vessels. The result has been a notable improvement in logistics and supply chain efficiencies with less congestion.
  • Ocean Freight Exchange – Though not a startup, Ocean Freight Exchange supports startup incubators. These efforts have been fruitful in producing “Right Bunker,” a web-based scheduler bunker delivery optimization system. The project is advancing in development with plans to be ready for 2020. In essence, the system increased the number of turns a tanker can make by 25 percent. Likewise, Right Bunker allows 25 percent less time in port. And in the process, the system reduces data errors and provides enhanced data cybersecurity.

International Trading Innovations Most Likely Will Come in Maritime Trade

While the potential for innovations exists in all areas, maritime trade is well positioned to see many of these. Due to environmental pressures and rising international trade, the sea trade sector will likely see many changes. Startups provide a fresh perspective and the latest technologies to make these innovations happen. And with an array of issues to tackle in maritime trade logistics, many are already showing promise.

For more on Bold Business’ series on the Blue Economy, check out these stories on Deep Seabed MiningWater Desalination and Aquaculture Systems, and Aquaculture Sustainability in Meeting Global Demand for Food.

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