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The future of shipping – conventional or technological ??

Whether it is for better or worse, technology has touched and revolutionized almost all aspects of human life and business.. Shipping and freight industry has also been touched by these technological developments under both mechanical and digital categories and these developments could determine the future of shipping..

One of the biggest technological revolutions or achievements in the history of world trade would be Containerisation, which entered its 60th year in 2016..


Containerisation has brought the world closer and the ships that carry these containers have become bigger, better, smarter and more energy efficient providing quicker and more effective services bringing the world even closer..

We have now entered the era of “Smart Containers” which companies like Maersk Line and CMA-CGM have introduced.. Using remote container management and unique technology, regular dry and reefer containers are transformed into smart, connected, objects heralding the entry of multi-modal transportation system into the Big Data era..

These smart containers can be tracked, managed and monitored remotely using special hardware such as relay antennas which allows the lines to collect, store and analyse data even while the ship is in high seas.. Based on this data, lines can take relevant remedial action where required, especially with regards to reefer cargo..

Port Operations

Technological advances have made a huge impact in port operations as well and below are some videos of automated container terminals like Maasvlakte II in Rotterdam which is one of the most advanced container terminal’s in the world.. 

You can watch a video of automation at work in the Port of Rotterdam..

Or watch automated operations at LBCT Berth LB 24 working on the container ship OOCL LONG BEACH..

Or watch automation in action at Busan’s New port Container Terminal (BNCT) which is Asia’s first vertical-automated terminal..

These fully automated terminals have increased the efficiency of port operations at a consistent level..

Customer Interface

Almost all container shipping lines around the world have invested quite heavily in digital technology and customer interface..

In a lot of the cases digital technology has become a USP (Unique Selling Proposition) and shipping lines while competing on price have also started competing on ease of UX (User Experience) and through this have managed to transfer a lot of the work from their desks to the customers desks..

These advances are visible on a day to day basis.. For example if you try to book cargo with any of the major lines, you may well come up with a situation wherein

  1. You, the shipper or booking party will be asked to update the shipment information into the line’s system or using a 3rd party system that the shipping line uses
  2. Once the shipment has been booked, you will be able to receive the release of containers from the system electronically
  3. Once the containers has been packed, you will need to input the container details and bill of lading instructions into the system
  4. Once the ship has sailed you are able to print the invoice from the system and make payment electronically
  5. Once this is done, you can even print electronic bills of lading to complete the shipping process.. (The jury is still out on whether electronic bills of lading is fully acceptable to world trade or not)

While this maybe useful to many customers, could this become the norm in the future removing any visible human interaction ??

You don’t have to speak to anyone for a rate, you don’t need to discuss a routing with anyone, you don’t have to send any documentation to any human, everything gets uploaded or downloaded automatically..

Of course there are humans involved in these processes in the background, but the fact remains that in a lot of the cases you don’t have any visible human interaction as the system takes care of everything..

Ships of the future

Not just containers and terminals, even ships are going back to the future with some innovative and energy saving technology such as wind powered ships and other green technologies..

Marine Insight reported a while ago about skysail technology which uses towing kites to move the ship forward, reducing the load on the engine and lowering fuel consumption..

This innovative use of wind energy has been implemented on several types of cargo ships with favorable results. The kite ship or the skysail technology has been proved to reduce fuel consumption of ships when the kite is used in strong winds.

Aghina Marina – The largest bulk carrier ship to use skysail technology and Beluga Skysail are some examples wherein the kite technology has been used successfully. Click here to find out how skysails work.


belunga skysailsThe 400-foot Beluga SkySails, the world’s first cargo ship to use a SkySail.

future of shippingLogistics companies are also implementing technology based changes in many of the logistics and supply functions enhancing their processes relating to procurement, S&OP and customer services..

Automation, EDI, online booking systems, automated warehouses, 3D printing, drone deliveries, Big Data, IoT and other such mechanical and digital technologies are set to take over the shipping, freight and logistics space creating enormous flexibility in the day to day operations and also dramatically empowering the customers..

BUT, is the industry ready for all of this..?? Are we ready for all of this..?? Is this the future of shipping..??

How has this technology impacted on your business and has that impact been positive or negative..??

Do you prefer the old school face to face/aural communication with a human or are you happy dealing with machines..??


Love to hear your thoughts..

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  1. Wow, I have never seen the kite ship idea before. I think it´s a great idea that will ultimately lead to environmental friendlier transportation and lower transportation costs. I wonder if there are solar powered cargo ships.

  2. Technological shipping is the answer of today global shipping needs. Human interaction is needed only for the maintenance of the system and for future improvements of it. As long as more countries have bigger goods consuming needs, the classic shipping protocol involving human interaction, good weather on the sea and good negotiation skills is becoming obsolete, because of increased transaction volume and the obviously need of better shipping timings.

  3. Nice article.

    When it comes attitudes to technological progress I tend to agree with Douglas Adams (author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) on how people react.
    1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
    2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
    3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

    Beyond that I would like to point out that MSC have also announced that they will be deploying smart containers using the same technology as CMA CGM (TRAXENS). I work for TRAXENS.

    You may be interested in our video showing what Smart Containers are doing for the industry. Even though the video is branded TRAXENS I think it addresses the overall benefits of Smart Containers. See

  4. Excellent and well articulated article. Machines will be more preferable due to the consistency. But the negotiation will be lost which would mean that we have a more fixed rate system.

  5. Greetings
    Good paper- broadly covered many facets.
    Reg Sky Sails–How the Future will develop remains a mystery. It is just 250 years since Sail era and 150 yrs of Steam era next–what is the next Fuel or combination ? Speculative.
    Re Documentation much depends on Global response.
    Yes IT and Online takes over where ever possible. The Manual part however still remains.
    Containerisation has indeed altered all with IT
    Marine Consultant (Survey .


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