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Chris MacDonald
By Chris MacDonald
Chris MacDonald
Chris MacDonald
Chris MacDonald is an expert on the weather-driven challenges facing the supply chain and logistics sector. Currently, he is Director of Global Logistics for the sales team at Tomorrow.io, the world's weather intelligence platform.
Mar 2, 2021· 5 min, 2 sec

Technologies Changing the Maritime and Shipping Industries

shipping supply chain

In 2020, operators in the maritime and shipping industries were largely sailing in uncharted waters. The word “unprecedented” was used so often that it almost lost its meaning. 

Crews and operators bore the brunt of a tumultuous 2020. Governments banned crew from coming ashore amid COVID-19 fears, which left 400,000 seafarers stranded on ships, continuing to work but unable to be relieved. Some were at sea for 17 months without a break. 

The maritime and shipping industries need to future-proof their operations so they have the necessary agility to not only manage risk, but also ensure the safety and wellbeing of their staff and provide a consistent level of customer service. 

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the need for increased digitalization and a robust technology landscape, and the industry can not afford to fall behind. Here are the maritime and shipping technologies to watch in 2021. 


Keeping your crew and port operators safe while preventing the spread of COVID-19 is difficult enough, without the associated scam emails and phishing attacks. Attempted hacks in the industry have risen 400% since February 2020 while malware, ransomware, and phishing emails exploiting the COVID-19 crisis have also increased. 

Remote working practices have only complicated the matter. A malware attack on Mediterranean Shipping Company’s data centers led to its main customer-facing websites being down for several days.

Maritime and shipping companies need to implement cybersecurity systems that help prevent, detect, and respond to potential attacks. Every organization is at risk and must have only the necessary IT systems to protect against threats, but also skilled workers who can identify sensitive systems, assets, and data that would result in the most damage if breached.

Big Data

The days of gut-feel and intuition-based decisions made from experience or guesswork are gone. Instead, maritime and shipping operators need to make data-driven decisions. 

If companies already generate huge amounts of structured and unstructured data every day. Sensors on ships and smart shipping technology will only increase the amount of data that companies have at their fingertips. If they can harness the power of that data then they can:

  • Identify efficiencies such as quicker routes or preferred ports 
  • Monitor vessels’ performance
  • Better manage staffing schedules
  • Schedule maintenance before equipment fails
  • Optimize vessel design

The real-time collection and processing of this data will allow companies to more accurately plan, predict and react to a range of situations. But they need to ensure they have systems in place to centralize and analyze this data to get actionable insight without having to do the heavy lifting. 

Weather Intelligence

Weather impacts the entire shipping and port operations process, most significantly influencing arrival, cargo transfer, and storage. Weather conditions are the number one cause of cargo delays and cost shipping companies tens of millions of dollars each year. The main reasons why containers get damaged, while variable, are more often than not related to the weather.

With weather intelligence, you can forget about the forecast and focus on improving specific operational use cases. With the right tools, you can use the upcoming impact of weather as a way to better plan your shipping and operations in advance. By combining accurate historical weather data with AI, you gain powerful insights to predict weather’s impact on your business. 

By deploying weather intelligence you can:

  • Maximize capacity and hourly productivity
  • Run cost-effective crane operations
  • Advance operational efficiency
  • Unlock new revenue streams: 
  • Optimize labor scheduling
  • Reduce wharf and vessel damage

Autonomous Ships

You’ve heard of autonomous cars, but what about autonomous ships? While Google executives and Elon Musk have yet to take an interest, trials of autonomous and remote control ships have already set sail. 

Marine systems provider Kongsberg is installing and testing autonomous technology on two vessels as part of a project that has already received funding from the European Union. 

According to the company, “An autonomous barge in operation is expected to take around 7,500 trucks off the roads each year and will result in reductions in both traffic congestion and emissions.”

Much of the technology to deploy autonomous ships is already in place, and ships already have remote control-operated unattended machine rooms and maintenance systems. But many industry executives are still wary of the safety of these vessels, with both technical errors and cybersecurity hacks challenging their use.


Staying on the theme of autonomous technology, robots will become more commonplace in the maritime and shipping industry in 2021 and beyond. One of the key purposes of these robots is to reduce risk in hazardous or dangerous situations, as well as to carry out routine tasks, such as cleaning and maintenance.  

The future of robotics will focus on areas such as:

  • Fire fighting
  • Hull cleaning
  • Combating piracy
  • Safety inspections
  • Predictive maintenance

Green Technology

Autonomous ships aren’t the only way shipping and maritime companies can increase their focus on environmental and sustainability issues. While shipping emits considerably less harmful fuel than air, road, or rail, there is still room for improvement, especially with consumers’ increasing focus on the issue. 

Fuel optimization systems such as Marine Digital FOS can significantly reduce fuel consumption while also cutting CO2 emissions. They also provide data on the amount of fuel used by a particular engine or generator while at sea or in port.

Renewable technology has its part to play, including hydropower, wind, and solar. The MS Tûranor PlanetSolar was the first ship to circumnavigate the globe on solar power alone, technology group ABB is working on hydrogen fuel cell systems for passenger and cargo ships, and wind propulsion technologies are helping the industry go green and clean. 

Cooling, waste heat recovery, and exhaust gas cleaning systems will also be able to help mitigate the environmental impact of port operations and shipping. 


While many companies already recognize the importance and transformative effect of these technologies, the maritime and shipping industry is still lagging behind when it comes to adoption. Companies that take the plunge and invest in these technologies will be able to drive business outcomes, turn insights into a competitive advantage, and reap the benefits of being ahead of the curve.

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