Why Real-Time Data Matters to the Maritime Industry


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. 

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 that with real-time big data analytics, however, the maritime industry can better navigate these unexpected challenges. 

What is Real-Time 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. Real-time capabilities mean that those insights are delivered immediately after collection. 

How Does Real-Time 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 real-time, 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 real-time 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, real-time 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. Real-time data streamlines decision making and supports ad hoc navigation to ensure companies maximize returns. 

Fuel-efficient routing 

By having access to real-time 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 oftentimes leads to 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 envisages that the total annual GHG emissions from international shipping should 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!

So are we saying that real-time data helps reduce fuel costs and GHG emissions? Yes, yes we are. Not a bad day at the office. 

Is Real-Time 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 Cyber Security Onboard Ships.

Full Speed Ahead for the Maritime Industry

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

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

Curious what real-time data looks like? Take a peek at Sofar Ocean’s publicly available weather network dashboard, which offers real-time open-ocean marine weather observation data from over 500 weather sensors worldwide!

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