Customary Quick Dispatch…Not So Fast

Welcome back readers, this past year was different from all others, but I hope that it was possible to visit with family and friends, ideally in person and maybe virtually. As everyone gets “back to business” (however defined), let’s hope that everything gets back to “normal”, which, again, might mean different things to different readers. Following Holidays, easing back into a routine was my traditional mode. But, working mostly from home, the days have blurred, so it’s hard to follow past practices.

The email blasts have started to come in for webinars, and for various products being pushed at the maritime sector. What I’ve observed so far, five business days into 2021, is that “optimization” (where data meets scheduling) seems to be topic du jour. While I can’t label this is as a trend, just like 2020 was the year of desulphurization/ decarbonization, let’s call it a starting point.

Some of the modules, apps, and programs (do they still use that term?) on offer are aimed at internal processes, where digital outputs of onboard devices feed into a database analyzing performance, or feeding a preventive maintenance program. Where fuel consumption is the issue, data outputs also feed systems that monitor the health of propulsion components. But they also tie into cloud-based venues that monitor optimal consumption, and, using templates of previous patterns (a/k/a “machine learning”) might then recommend a different speed for a vessel. When coupled with “artificial intelligence”, a different routing might be recommended- based on previous patterns for vessel routing. For the most part, happily, human decision makers are still in the loop. This brings us closer to the “scheduling” aspects- giving us a break from all those 2020 things whose acronyms I will not mention.

One software platform that I’ve been involved is seeking to loop in-harbor movements, or approaches out at sea, with vessel fuel optimization. Their efforts scratch the surface of a bigger issue- how do you get ports involved? After all, local routing (including vessels sitting at anchor and waiting) is part of the optimization paradigm- but one that does not get sufficient attention. In my writing, I do cover ports, and have been fortunate to meet and get to know decision makers and leaders in the sector. These guys (and women too) are political animals; they are sensitive to environmental trends. Indeed, local drayage (trucks hauling containers or other cargo) around ports has seen a pivot from diesel power to battery or electric power- fueled (financially), at least in part by grant funding from the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA). But there is a real chasm separating the port community from institutions such as the IMO, and others who may get into the decarbonization act.

In one of the articles last year, I suggested that the optimizers serving tankers and drybulk should get together- take their cue from the liner shipping business which has successfully “managed” capacity- with corollary benefits for investors and for the environment. As we begin 2021, it might be time to suggest that folks offering their wares, enabling streamlining and regeneration to shipowners, take a look at the ports where the vessels call. There may be ways that their platforms can be linked with those of the ports (some of which have put tentacles deep into cargo supply chains). Voyages with “customary quick dispatch”, or however that archaic wording goes, may be anachronisms as ships approach and enter ports in the new year.