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Throughout the course of human history, civilizations have relied on transit across water to travel, trade and invade. Archaeologists can trace the use of boats back many thousands of years, with circumstantial evidence pointing toward their use as early as 9,500 BC, well before the Pesse canoe, commonly thought to represent the world’s oldest known boat.

Navigational knowledge and boatbuilding techniques have advanced steadily over time; the enormous ships we see transporting people and goods today are extraordinary evolutions of their ancestors.

In the container ship realm, it was not until the 1950s that the first commercially successful vessel completed its maiden voyage. Named Ideal X, it was a T2 tanker owned by Malcom McClean that carried 58 containers between Newark, New Jersey, and Houston. By contrast, today’s largest container ship, the HMM Algeciras, can carry up to 24,000 TEUs. 

Shipping is, quite literally, big business. In monetary terms, the $900 billion shipping logistics industry is expected to be valued at more than $2 trillion by 2023, growth underpinned by increasingly efficient vessels that make use of cutting-edge innovations. 

For instance, by 2025 the global market for electric-powered shipping vessels is set to be worth $8.4 billion, rising to $15.6 billion come the end of the decade. 

Meanwhile, the demand for maritime data analytics is set to increase from $895 million in 2019 to more than $1.8 billion by 2027. Wherever you look, technology is steering the value of big ships upwards. 

Artificial intelligence – an unstoppable tide?  

One strand of technological innovation in ships that is making waves is artificial intelligence (AI). 

Defined as the ability of a machine or a robot controlled by a computer to do tasks that are usually done by humans because they require human intelligence and discernment, AI is taking on an increasing number of use cases aboard large vessels. 

Fuel is one of the largest costs for shipping companies. For Swedish shipping giant Stena Line, it constitutes a massive 20 percent of all running costs. Innovation to help cut fuel consumption has therefore become a major priority. 

Stena, which is also one of the world’s largest ferry operators, has been experimenting with the use of AI technology on one of its vessels as it travels overnight from Gothenburg to the German Port of Kiel. 

Working in collaboration with Hitachi, the Stena Fuel Pilot can predict the most fuel-efficient way to operate a vessel and assist the onboard captain and crew to lower the fuel consumption. The results from Stena Scandinavica show a reduced fuel consumption of 2-3 percent per trip, results which have prompted Stena to deploy the AI assistant across its entire fleet of 37 ships.

Niklas Kapare, captain on M/S Skåne, has used the technology first-hand. He commented: “We can see that it is working, even though we need to continue to adjust it to improve the results. As a captain, I get a good overview of several factors such as wind, currents and squat, and assistance to use the right power and number of engines to lower the fuel consumption.”

Another important use case for AI aboard vessels is navigation. Using sophisticated tracking software in tandem with IoT connectivity, these systems can be leveraged to analyze multiple navigational scenarios. 

Stena is, once again, leading the way in this regard through its AI Captain solution. It is capable of recalculating routes during voyages when it receives information to suggest that problems may lie ahead. Such problems could be in the immediate distance, and it is here that AI-powered image recognition technology has a role to play. 

An example of this in action is a collaboration between Chinese tech firm SenseTime and Japanese shipping company Mitsui OSK Lines. SenseTime’s system leverages ultra-high-resolution cameras and a graphic processing unit to automatically identify vessels in a ship’s surrounding area, designed to prevent large vessels such as container ships and cruise liners from colliding with smaller ones. The solution can also alert crew to other hazards when visibility is poor.

It is not just aboard ships that AI can have an impact, however. The industry could also benefit from slicker terminal operations, with AI being trialed in a number of areas such as container handling, decking systems, gate volume predictions and vessel stowage. 

According to a study from Navis toward the end of 2019, 88 percent of respondents indicated that automated decision-making will be very, if not extremely, important for the future of innovation at terminals. 

Andy Barrons, chief strategy officer at Navis, said at the time: “Just a few short years ago, only a handful of our customers were even open to the idea of automation or other disruptive technologies designed to make the container terminal smarter, safer and more sustainable.

“The survey demonstrates just how far the industry has come–and will continue to go–in harnessing technology in the right ways to automate decision making within terminals. We firmly believe that automation and the use of AI is our future, and will continue to support our current and future customers as they embark down this critical path.”

A fully autonomous future?

But just how far will AI technology embed itself into the workings of ships and the wider industry? 

It is a mightily difficult question to answer, but there are signs that we are only just at the beginning of AI’s shipping industry voyage. 

Yara Birkeland is an emission-free and fully autonomous 120 TEU container ship that is under construction and due to be launched imminently. At the end of November 2020, the ship was handed over to Yara from the Norwegian shipyard Vard Brattvåg, where it is undergoing testing for container loading and stability before being sailed to a port and test area in Horten for further preparations. 

Elsewhere, the European Union through its Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation program is funding a three-year project aimed at creating trade lanes linked by automated port services and used by autonomous ships. 

The Advanced, Efficient and Green Intermodal Systems (AEGIS) initiative is expected to complete in May 2023 and is in line with the EU’s plans to accelerate efforts to shift road transport volumes to rail and waterborne transport. Although the project is targeting smaller ships and short-sea operations, the wider implications could be momentous if it is deemed a successful endeavor. 

However, one of the stumbling blocks in relation to automated ships is cost. 

The enormity of the technology required (at least at present) means that many ship operators, especially those with large vessels, will not be entertaining the prospect of full-scale fleet conversion anytime soon. The Yara Birkeland, for example, is estimated to cost around $25 million–three times more than a conventional container vessel of the same size. 

While AI has proven to yield considerable financial savings, operational efficiencies and safety benefits across a range of use cases, it may be some time before we see unmanned giants roaming our seas. 

vessel accident february

Preparing for Rough Waters: How to Handle Freight Lost in a Vessel Accident

Maritime insurance executives estimate that 3,000 containers have been lost at sea over the past few months alone. Compared to the 1,382 containers on average lost per year between 2008-2019 as reported by The World Shipping Council, that’s a big jump. What’s the reason for it?

As you may have expected, there’s not a simple, all-encompassing answer, instead, there are multiple variables at work. The good news is, there are steps you can take to help prepare for any delays or disruptions that result from a vessel accident. As a platform that works with the many different vessel operators to move our customers’ goods, we share some key things to know.

Why are vessel accidents increasing?

There are more containers on the water than ever

Over the years, vessels have increased in size and capacity. As such, they move more containers and can stack them higher. Add in the high demand for ocean service over the past few months and a decrease in blank sailings that would typically remove capacity, there are more vessels and containers out on the water.

Poor weather and high stacks of containers don’t mix

While vessels generally avoid storms, going through a relatively bad weather cell can happen. Ocean vessels are designed to roll in motion with the waves, however powerful waves caused by bad weather combined with high stacks of containers can change this rolling motion. In these situations, vessels undergo a synchronous and parametric rolling, which often causes vessels to tip at angles that displace higher stacked containers.

What are carriers doing about vessel accidents?

Ocean carriers are looking for ways to optimize how they block and brace containers to minimize accidents – including continued rigor around weight distributions, misdeclarations, improper packing and storage planning. There is also research being done into how technology can help sense container movement, allowing for faster reactions.

How to prepare for a vessel accident

Until your freight has been involved in a vessel accident, you may not be aware of the process or overall impact on your supply chain. Although vessel accidents are unplanned and usually unpredictable, there are steps you can take before you ship so you’re not scrambling when you get the news your freight was involved in an accident. Here’s what you need to know.

Have a backup plan to deal with delays

For starters, even if your freight is not lost at sea, you’re still likely to experience significant delays. For example, a recent maritime accident in December 2020 resulted in freight being held in Japan. In this case, each container (that was not damaged or lost at sea) needs to be unloaded and transshipped to another vessel for transportation. Access to the unimpacted containers can also take a while as the unloading and inspection of damaged containers might need to take place first.

Consider purchasing maritime insurance

One of the avenues to help protect your company financially is through maritime insurance. Cargo insurance is not a requirement, but as events like vessel accidents are usually outside of the carriers’ liability, insurance can provide added protection for your freight. With a cargo insurance policy, you are covered for unexpected losses.

Develop a resilient supply chain strategy

Unfortunately, insurance only applies to the value of lost freight. It cannot help you overcome delays, transload freight, or expedite new orders to realign inventory levels and ensure adequate stock is where it’s needed most. That’s where supply chain resiliency comes in. Rather than wait until you’re impacted by a vessel accident, now is the time to develop a plan that helps you minimize the impact to your business and allows you to continue serving customers.

Rely on a provider with a global suite of services

We recently had a customer impacted by a vessel accident. While their freight was not damaged, it was delayed. Unfortunately, equipment shortages and capacity constraints almost prevented the replacement stock from arriving on time. Through quick communications with our local team in South Asia and thanks to our extensive relationships with global carriers, we successfully secured the space and containers they needed.

But that was only the first hurdle. The original destination port had high congestion and vessel dwell times, so our team shifted to a different port and was able to keep an additional 20 days off the transit time. A transportation provider with reliable service and a global network is the best way to get the careful coordination and market insights these types of situations require.

You can prepare for the unexpected

Developments in technology and changes to freight blocking and bracing will never offer full protection from vessel accidents. Think about the vulnerabilities your supply chain could face in the wake of a vessel accident now to help you minimize the impact to your business in the future.

Ready to drive smarter solutions to prepare your supply chain for a vessel accident? Connect with our global network of experts.


SCPA Completes 2020 with New December Record

It should come as no surprise to learn that South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA) managed to finish 2020 with record numbers, considering the year is notorious for the insurmountable disruption felt by the international and domestic trade arenas. SCPA proved once again that when it comes to breaking new records, there’s no time like the present – even in the middle of a pandemic.

“The pandemic created unprecedented challenges to supply chains around the world,” SC Ports President and CEO Jim Newsome said. “I am immensely proud of our port employees and all those working in the maritime and logistics community for showing up every day during a pandemic to keep supply chains fluid. Their dedication ensures that food products, medical supplies, manufacturing parts and retail goods are efficiently delivered. We are grateful to them, and we look forward to a brighter 2021.”

The ports’ Wando Welch and North Charleston terminals saw an increase of 11.6 percent thanks to the 209,606 twenty-foot equivalent container units (TEUs) handled in December. Cargo boxes of all sizes were also moved at record numbers. The port confirmed 116,685 pier containers in December (including the aforementioned cargo boxes) at an increase of 10.3 percent.

SCPA cited the vehicles as the most significant in terms of volume. A total of 21,228 vehicles were handled in December alone. This total set a new overall monthly record for the port and represents a whopping 29.2 percent increase.

The rail side of operations saw robust numbers throughout December as well with a  total of 16,463 rail moves recorded between Inland Port Greer (13,523) and Inland Port Dillon (2,940). Although Inland Port Dillon’s rail moves were confirmed to be down by 2.9 percent, Inland Port Greer saw an increase of 26 percent in rail moves compared to last year.

So far for FY2021, SCPA has handled more than 1.2 million TEUs, moved 135,747 vehicles across the docks at Columbus Street Terminal, and continued efforts for the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project and Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal.



We have pursued an amazing amount of infrastructure in a short period of time. In 2021, we will have the deepest harbor on the East Coast.

Large retail stores are reopening, merchants are stocking up for the winter holidays and the increased use of e-commerce appears to be an enduring trend picked up by consumers during the recent stay-at-home orders.

It’s a tossup which is more impressive: that several U.S. ports experienced strong (and in some cases record-breaking) growth during the third quarter of 2020, or that these gains came in the middle of a global pandemic and economic uncertainty.


Consider the examples that follow.


In August, the Port of Savannah moved more containers over its docks, more cargo through its rail yards and more trade in and out of its inland terminals than at any other point in its 75-year history.

Let’s let that sink in, shall we?

Indeed, August 2020 saw the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) move 441,600 twenty-foot equivalent container units (TEUs), an increase of 1 percent or 3,850 TEUs compared to August 2019, in which the previous record was set.

The GPA also set a record this past August for intermodal cargo, handling 49,402 containers (approximately 89,000 TEUs) by rail. And more containers moved through the GPA’s Appalachian Regional Port in August than ever before at 3,420 lifts, an increase of 1,679 or 96 percent.

“The numbers cement Savannah’s position as one of the key hub ports in global trade,” says GPA Board Chairman Will McKnight. “The combination of big ship efficiency, our landside infrastructure and the soon-to-be-completed harbor deepening make Georgia the logical choice for American farms and factories competing in the global marketplace. The Port of Savannah stands ready to support the nation’s exporters as our economy regains momentum.”

Yes, Savannah stands ready—although not on its heels. Consider this: After setting those all-time records in August, the port in September welcomed the CMA CGM Brazil, the largest ship to ever call the U.S. East Coast with a capacity of 15,072 TEUs.

“As the largest ship ever to call the East Coast moves 5,600 TEUs on and off the largest single container terminal in North America, it is clear that our efforts to expand capacity and reach are taking hold,” said GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch said shortly after the CMA CGM Brazil docked

“Frankly, we weren’t expecting to experience record volumes during this pandemic, but thanks to our employees, the ILA and all of our partners who pulled together and our customers who believe in us, this announcement is possible today.”

While it had the microphone, the GPA seized the opportunity to make another pro-growth announcement: The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, which will deepen the river to 47 feet at low tide, is now 75 percent complete. 

“The sight of this colossal ship makes perfectly clear the benefits America will gain from the Savannah Harbor deepening,” said Col. Daniel H. Hibner, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District. “The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, now nearly complete, will boost the economy at a critical time and will have broad impacts for Georgia, South Carolina and throughout the Southeast.”


Sure, you can read on about the recent success of the South Carolina Ports Authority (SC Ports). Or, you can take the GPA information above and replace “August” with “September” and “Savannah” with “Charleston.”

First, SC Ports’ September volumes reflected the strongest year-over-year activity since the pandemic hit, showing a continued recovery and strength in containers, vehicles and inland port moves.

The Wando Welch and North Charleston container ports handled 195,101 TEUs, a record September for SC Ports and a slight increase year-over-year. The Port of Charleston’s Columbus Street Terminal handled 21,702 vehicles during the same month, which was less than 2 percent down from the previous year. But fiscal-year-to-date, vehicle volumes are up 25 percent.

Meanwhile, inland Port Greer had 12,994 rail moves in September, up 4 percent year-over-year, while inland Port Dillon’s 3,108 rail moves that same month was up a whopping 27 percent over September 2019. The inland ports’ combined 16,102 rail moves in September represented an 8 percent jump from a year ago.

“September volumes outperformed expectations as we see an uptick in cargo flowing through our marine terminals and inland ports,” says SC Ports President and CEO Jim Newsome said. “We will continue to operate well-run terminals, as we have throughout the pandemic.” 

And, they will continue to push the envelope.

“We remain highly focused on capturing more retail goods and e-commerce cargo, such as with Walmart’s new 3 million-square-foot distribution center Dorchester County,” Newsome said.

Like Savannah, the Port of Charleston also saw a record fall with the call in September by the CMA CGM Brazil. “The ability to seamlessly handle the CMA CGM Brazil highlights SC Ports’ deep harbor and modern capabilities,” Newsome said.

If that sounds similar to what came out with CMA CGM Brazil’s Savannah call, prepare for more déjà vu all over again: SC Ports also revealed its Charleston Harbor Deepening Project is on schedule to achieve a 52-foot depth in 2021.

“We have pursued an amazing amount of infrastructure in a short period of time,” Newsome observed. “In 2021, we will have the deepest harbor on the East Coast.”


The Port of Long Beach accomplished a pair of records in September by achieving its busiest month ever and the most active quarter in its 109-year history.

Trade was up 12.5 percent in September compared to the same period in 2019. Dockworkers and terminal operators moved 795,580 cargo container units and broke the “best month” record; the previous single-month record of 753,081 TEUs was only set this past July, surpassing by nearly 42,500 TEUs.

The port processed 2,274,271 TEUs between July 1 and Sept. 30, a 14.1 percent increase from the third quarter of 2019. It was also the port’s busiest quarter on record, topping the previous record set during the third quarter of 2017 by nearly 160,000 TEUs.

“Large retail stores are reopening, merchants are stocking up for the winter holidays and the increased use of e-commerce appears to be an enduring trend picked up by consumers during the recent stay-at-home orders,” said Mario Cordero, the port’s executive director. “Still, we must move ahead with caution during the remaining months of 2020 because the national economy continues to be heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“These numbers reflect a continuation of the secure, speedy and reliable service we provide at the Port of Long Beach during this difficult time in our country,” added Long Beach Harbor Commission President Frank Colonna. “Delivering top-notch customer service and maintaining the health of our workforce remains our top priority.”

The port saw 92 containerships call in September, 19 of which were unscheduled vessels that made up for voyages canceled earlier this year.


Port Manatee’s dynamic containerized cargo trade continues to swell at a record pace, surging nearly 55 percent in the just-ended fiscal year, according to figures reported on Oct. 13 by the closest U.S. deepwater seaport to the expanded Panama Canal.           

In the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, an all-time-high 88,466 TEUs crossed Port Manatee docks, up 54.6 percent from the preceding 12-month period, when the port saw moves of 57,239 TEUs. That figure was up 49.2 percent over fiscal 2018, when 38,361 TEUs moved through the Palmetto, Florida, port.

“With container throughput more than doubling over the course of just two years, Port Manatee is increasingly fulfilling regional consumer demands for goods ranging from fresh produce to appliances,” said Carlos Buqueras, Port Manatee’s executive director. “As our dockside container yard expansion project advances toward mid-2021 completion, Port Manatee is positioning to continue to efficiently handle rapidly growing cargo volumes.”

The container yard expansion is adding 9.3 acres to the existing 10-acre paved facility adjoining Port Manatee’s Berth 12 and 14 docks.  

While the COVID-19 pandemic and related impacts did not slow Port Manatee’s container upsurge–including a 24.9 percent rise in containerized cargo tons to 668,672–some other cargo sectors were negatively affected at the fiscal year’s end. 

The port’s total cargo tonnage for fiscal 2020 of 9,327,183 was down 7.5 percent from the record 10,081,743 tons in fiscal 2019, with liquid bulk tonnage slipping 8.6 percent, to 5,957,157, and dry bulk tonnage falling 16.7 percent, to 1,866,383. Led by increased volumes of lumber and scrap metal, Port Manatee’s general cargo throughput was up 9.3 percent, to 531,019 tons.          

Priscilla Whisenant Trace, chairwoman of the Manatee County Port Authority, said she is encouraged by the port’s latest cargo numbers, realized amid the implementation of enhanced health and safety measures.

“We commend the men and women who are maintaining essential operations at Port Manatee, serving consumers of Southwest Florida and beyond,” she said. “Sustained growth of Port Manatee’s container trade is a testament to the success of our diverse strategy, with key infrastructure investments poised to facilitate even greater cargo activity and deliver still more positive socioeconomic impacts throughout our region.” 


“Exploding” is how Port Director Patricia C. Schreiber describes the Port of Buffalo’s 2020 navigation season, which through early September had welcomed 15 vessels with more scheduled to arrive.

“Projects that we’ve been working on for years have finally come to fruition,” Schreiber says in a press statement. “We’ve expanded the realm of everybody’s projects here by offering as much as we can whether it’s transloading, warehousing, rail or dock-side service, and even long-term storage.”

A diverse mix of commodities at the forefront of the Port of Buffalo’s busy season include wind turbines, salt, and sugar. The port’s sugar business began in the fall of 2019 when Schreiber worked to attract a new terminal customer.

“We were able to develop this new partnership because we’re a one-stop-shop with certified weigh scales and the ability to bring in material via vessel and out by either train or truck,” notes Schreiber. “We were and continue to be responsible for offloading bags of sugar from the vessel, stacking them into our warehouse, and scaling our customer’s trucks for shipping.” 

You might say Buffalo’s taste for sugar has . . . wait for it . . . 

“This year, our customer decided that they were only going to ship organic sugar,” Schreiber revealed. “So, we created a custom solution on their behalf. To handle the organic sugar shipments, we decided to certify the Port of Buffalo as an organic port.”

The Port of Buffalo is a proud member of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System, a marine highway that extends 2,300 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. About 143.5 million metric tons of cargo are moved across the system on an annual basis, supporting more than 237,868 jobs and $35 billion in economic activity.

Like its partner facilities within the system, the Port of Buffalo is seeing international shipments of wind energy components taking off. Explaining that the process to bid on wind turbines actually began two years ago, Schreiber says “our hard work paid off. This year, we’ve been handling multiple shipments of wind turbines. To us, that means a full dock for the season.”