Greening the Global Maritime Industry

A new report from the World Bank and the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) examines better digital collaboration between private and public entities across the maritime supply chain, arguing that these kinds of collaborations result in significant efficiency gains, safer and more resilient supply chains, and lower emissions.

Maritime transport carries over 90% of global merchandise trade, totaling some 11 billion tons of cargo per year. Digitizing this sector of the global economy could bring wide-ranging economic benefits and contribute to a stronger, more sustainable recovery.

The new report, entitled “Accelerating Digitalization: Critical Actions to Strengthen the Resilience of the Maritime Supply Chain,” examines how collaborative use of digital technology can help streamline all aspects of maritime transport, from cross-border processes and documentation to communications between ship and shore, with a special focus on ports.

The COVID-19 crisis has evidenced a key benefit of digitizing waterborne and landside operations: meeting the urgent needs to minimize human interaction and enhance the resilience of supply chains against future crises.

According to Makhtar Diop, World Bank VP for Infrastructure, in many client countries, inefficiencies in the maritime sector result in delays and higher logistics costs, with an adverse impact on the entire economy.

“Digitization gives us a unique chance to address this issue,” he said, also noting that “beyond immediate benefits to the maritime sector, digitalization will help countries participate more fully in the global economy, and will lead to better development outcomes.”

IAPH’s Managing Director of Policy and Strategy, Dr. Patrick Verhoeven, said the report’s short-term and medium-term measures to accelerate digitalization have the proven potential to improve supply chain resilience and efficiency while addressing potential risks related to cybersecurity.

“However,” he added, “necessary policy reform is also vital. Digitalization is not just a matter of technology but, more importantly, of change management, data collaboration, and political commitment.”

Although the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has made it mandatory for all its member countries to exchange key data electronically (the FAL convention), a recent IAPH survey reveals that only a third of over 100 responding ports have complied with that requirement.

The main barriers to digitalize cited by the ports were the legal framework in their countries or regions and persuading the multiple private-public stakeholders to collaborate, not the technology.

The report analyzes numerous technologies applied already by some from the world’s leading port and maritime communities, including big data, the internet of things (IoT), fifth-generation technology (5G), blockchain solutions, wearable devices, unmanned aircraft systems, and other smart technology-based methods to improve performance and economic competitiveness. 

The full World Bank/IAPH report can be seen at

The IAPH global ports survey can be viewed at