Future of shipping: Europe’s ports can keep a competitive edge

future of shipping
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Magda Kopczynska, Director for Waterborne Transport at European Commission, speaks about the future of shipping.

At the annual European Sea Ports Organisation (ESPO) conference – this year held in Livorno, Italy – some of the main themes included the digitalisation of the shipping industry and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions within the industry. The role of port authorities in promoting sustainability and competitiveness was also outlined during the event. Director for Waterborne Transport at European Commission, Magda Kopczynska, told us about the future of the shipping industry; including how digitalisation and the industry 4.0 revolution will have an impact and what can be done to engage with other industries to ensure shipping is future ready.

How will the fourth industrial revolution influence the development of ports of the future?

I think it will more than just influence ports: it will shape ports. It is always difficult – if not impossible – to make more than informed guesses, because we make our assumptions based on our present knowledge and do not see the real disruptions coming. In hindsight we always know better.

We speak of a revolution, but the changes, like in any other industrial revolution before, are taking place gradually. I think we are already in the midst of it. Automation is by this time already present in ports. Digitalisation is now very much in the focus of how ports can improve both their operations and the interactions of the different port actors. It is at the very heart of our policies – the European Maritime Single Window environment and the Electronic Freight Transport Information are two prominent and recent examples and, last year, in the Connecting Europe Facility we had a specific and very successful ‘Digitalisation’ call for proposals for ports.

In any event, I think that dialogue between the different parties interested in making this a success is essential to the future of shipping.

How can Europe’s ships and ports implement clean transport and energy policies to ensure a green future for shipping?

First of all, the environment is something we should always keep in mind when designing our policies, be it at company level or at the level of interest groups or policymakers. Promoting the environmental performance of ports and of the maritime sector is a well-established policy of the European Commission; but Europe is not in isolation in this endeavour.

Ports can play an important role in assisting the shipping sector to deliver under the IMO strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ships. With regard to ports’ own emissions, I would invite ports – and I mean not only port authorities, but also all port stakeholders – to be ambitious and aim for zero emission port operations. The deployment of clean technology will have to go hand-in-hand between the ship side and the port side. This is the only way to overcome the famous ‘chicken or egg’ dilemma. This requires partnerships that include not only these two sides, but also the energy providers.

And it all starts with pioneers: those who are conscious of the fact that ‘something needs to be done’ and who are willing to actually do something about it, investing efforts and money. When it comes to alternative fuels, I think we are gradually leaving behind the pioneering phase and are entering a nascent mass market. The Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive, adopted in 2014, has definitely provided certainty for investors that alternative fuels are here to stay, including in the maritime sector.

In any case, the Commission has demonstrated its willingness to effectively support the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure by co-funding through the Connecting Europe Facility a significant number of future shipping projects focusing on liquefied natural gas (LNG) or oil purification systems (OPS).

How far have we come in implementing the Internet of Things (IoT) and intelligent transport systems (ITS) in ports and shipping? Do we have a long journey ahead?

As we speak, new and innovative solutions are transforming the transport sector in its entirety, including ports and shipping. Digitalisation, Artificial Intelligence, automation, robotics, the Internet of Things are all ‘game changers’ and disruptors; and they will tremendously affect the way things are produced and goods are transported. The journey is constantly in the making.

How can new technologies contribute to safety and efficiency in the maritime industry?

Digitalisation is an increasingly important driver for efficiency, simplification and lowering costs. It increases the efficiency of our transport systems as well as the utilisation of existing resources and infrastructures. New technologies not only optimise supply chain visibility and resilience, but they improve safety and security, and they enhance environmental performance of transport and logistic operations.

Digitalisation allows for the optimisation of traffic flows, but more importantly, also for a much better integration of all types of transport. This will mean that the users can easily mix and match transport modes according to their needs. This is the gateway to genuine multi-modality.

How can ports engage with industries and operators to ensure they are ready to accommodate the evolution of ports?

Dialogue between the different interested parties is essential. No one can expect to sit in isolation and hope that nothing will change or wait for others to do the job. If you stay isolated, things will be shaped without you.

The European Commission can offer different platforms for information, reflection, discussion, exchange of ideas and good practice. And we have a number of them – the European Ports Forum, the Digital Transport and Logistics Forum; and the doyen of these fora, the European Sustainable Shipping Forum. The different actors of the wider port community are aware of their existence and many are active members of them. However, these fora are only as good as the input provided by their members into their works. Here again, waiting for others to do the job, piggybacking or freeriding have a payback only up to a point. We need active members that make positive contributions that benefit these fora in their entirety.

Another important platform put by the Commission at the disposal of certain stakeholders is the Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee. I think it is indispensable that the Committee starts reflecting on the evolution of ports and the future of shipping. Undoubtedly, the social component of the fourth industrial revolution on ports needs to be taken into consideration.

Finally, I would also like to commend industry-led initiatives like FEPORT’s and PEMA’s Terminal Industry Committee 4.0., which is born out of the recognition of the need for the container terminal industry to prepare for this fourth industrial revolution.

How will new trade in a geopolitical environment inform the future of shipping and port policy?

Europe has a key competitive edge – we export products, standards and rules, but we must be vigilant regarding other emerging players. At the same time, we are witnessing a rising global protectionism. While some seem to be inward-looking, this could be an opportunity for Europe, if we are able to make the best out of it. We must also reflect on what is in Europe’s interest. Transport is one of the sectors where we have global success, global reputation and where we are globally competitive.

Europe is strong and successful when it tears down barriers; and if we want to, for instance, have a digital single transport market, we need to break down the barriers. Same standards and interoperable systems are the best recipe for success. At the same time, we must always defend our strategic assets and protect our collective security. In accordance with the EU framework for investment screening, foreign investments in European ports should only happen in transparency, fully respecting the European legal framework, standards, norms and rules.

Europe needs strong and well-functioning ports. Therefore, our aim is to support efficiency, sustainability and competition in ports. The Port Services Regulation, applicable since 24 March 2019, means more transparent – and thus more efficient – public funding; more and fairer access to port services; better dialogue between port authorities, providers of port services and users. It will also give necessary stability and predictability for the sector.

I am convinced that the European Union’s maritime and port sectors and the terminal and port operators can prosper if they continue to innovate and show leadership in innovation while promoting the highest social, safety, environmental standards. With all stakeholders on board, I am confident we can meet the challenges and stay ahead globally. The implementation of the European Ports Policy, the Port Services Regulation and the Trans-European Transport Networks, shows our commitment to helping European ports achieve their full potential.

Magda Kopczynska

Director for Waterborne Transport

European Commission

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