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  • Why Realtime Data Matters to the Maritime Industry

    By: Ayesha Renyard 4 min read
    Note: This article was originally posted on the Sofar Ocean website.

    According to the Shipping Facts section of the International Chamber of Shipping website, over 90% of world trade is in the hands of the international maritime shipping industry. Every year, it moves more than USD 4 trillion of goods. For shipping companies, there’s a lot of pressure to remain on schedule, protect the cargo ship and crew, and ensure profitability. And we can’t say it’s easy.

    A person using an interactive map to drive a cargo

    This interactive map of the world’s main shipping routes provides a glimpse of the industry’s complexity. 90,000 vessels cross paths as they transport goods from one continent to another.


    It’s clear from this map that the maritime industry involves an intricate system of transportation. To complicate things, ports and vessels are also subject to the forces of nature, which are becoming harder and harder to predict. Thus, shipping companies must be able to adapt to changing situations and act fast.

    We believe, however, that with realtime big data analytics the maritime industry can navigate these unexpected challenges better.

    What is Realtime Big Data?

    Big data is a field that extracts and analyzes data from data sets that are too large or complex to be dealt with by traditional data-processing application software. Realtime capabilities mean that those insights are delivered immediately after collection.

    How Does Realtime Big Data Help The Maritime Industry?

    Maritime companies generate data from different sources and in several formats. Traditionally, these insights are fixed, siloed, and inconsistent. Actioning this information is time-consuming and a major pain point for shipping companies.  

    With big data tools, this inflow of data is collated and organized in a cloud-based system. It then analyzes and spits out the relevant data in realtime, which promotes better decision-making. Nothing is left to intuition or chance — unlocking opportunities to drive greater efficiencies.

    Efficient Maritime Operations and Logistics

    Overall operations and logistics, for example, become much more efficient with realtime data. Companies can obtain information through GPS and RFID tags to help locate containers and ships immediately. Data technology also helps synchronize communication to manage ship arrivals, berthings, and departures safely and efficiently. And in case of an emergency, non-availability of the labor, or terminal allocations, realtime data helps ships plan their routes and speeds accordingly.

    Due to climate change, this ability to pivot has never been so relevant. Although the interactive map above demonstrates that the global maritime industry is a well-oiled machine, the ocean’s weather — currents, waves, and wind — are more unpredictable than ever. Realtime data streamlines decision-making and supports ad hoc navigation to ensure companies maximize returns.

    Fuel-Efficient Routing

    By having access to realtime sea state observations — currents, waves, and swell — vessel operators can re-route according to current ocean and weather conditions while optimizing fuel efficiency. Inefficient weather routing often leads to the increased time spent at sea, which not only disrupts and delays the supply chain but can also increase fuel burn and CO2 emissions.  

    In addition to increasing voyage earnings, fuel-efficient routing also reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, supporting the latest GHG reduction strategy developed in 2018 by the International Maritime Organization. The initial strategy envisions that the total annual GHG emissions from international shipping be reduced by at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2008. What does 50% look like? As documented in this report, the IMO calculated that vessels released 1.12 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide the year before, in 2007. So we can guess that emissions need to be reduced by 560 million metric tons. That’s equivalent to the emissions from 102 million cars!

    Are we saying that realtime data helps reduce fuel costs and GHG emissions in a significant way? Yes, yes we are. Not a bad day at the office.

    Is Realtime Big Data Safe From Cyber Threats?

    We hear this question a lot, and rightly so. The convergence of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) onboard ships — and their connection to the internet — creates an increased attack surface that requires greater cyber risk management.

    On the IT side, the chances of cyberattacks can be mitigated through proper implementation of encryption techniques like blockchain technology. From an operational standpoint, IMO maintains that effective cyber risk management should start at the senior management level — embedding a culture of cyber risk awareness into all levels and departments of an organization. You can read more about this in BIMCO’s Guidelines on Cybersecurity Onboard Ships.

    Full Speed Ahead for the Maritime Industry

    Is it possible that the maritime industry can become bigger and better? More lucrative, with fewer GHG emissions? We believe so.

    Knowledge is power. By implementing realtime insights in daily operations, shipping companies are well-positioned to navigate anything that comes their way. And using this year as an example, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have an edge on the unexpected.

    Curious what realtime data looks like? Check out the Ably Hub, Ably's initiative to help individuals and companies share their data or take a peek at Sofar Ocean’s publicly available weather network dashboard, which offers realtime open-ocean marine weather observation data from over 500 weather sensors worldwide!