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What It Will Take to Modernize the Maritime Sector

With 90 percent of world trade transported by ocean carriers and flowing through coastal ports, maritime infrastructure is a major factor in urban planning.

A new study by SEA20, a network of maritime cities looking to tackle emerging crises connected to rapid urbanization and environmental challenges, finds an emerging need within cities, academia and the industry to jointly tackle unwanted emissions and to cultivate opportunities that shipping holds for port communities.

The study reveals that while the desire exists, lack of communication and collaboration between key maritime players hampers progress at a time when the signs and impact of global warming are accelerating.

So far, Helsinki and Vaasa, Finland; Hamburg, Germany; Rotterdam, Holland; the U.S. state of Washington; Trieste and Genoa, Italy; and Luleå, Sweden have signed up for SEA20. Other cities are in the process of joining.

Contributors to the study cited data sharing as an example of an efficiency-increasing practice that is widely adopted among other logistics industries, but still generally untapped by maritime. For example, data sharing could resolve congestion in ports and dramatically reduce emissions in the area, the study noted.

“There is a problem of trust in the maritime ecosystem, as different players have different benefits,” Xiangming Zeng, associate professor at the Shanghai Maritime University, wrote in the study. “The authorities look at issues from their point of view, the industry has its own angle and so on. But how to build trust?”

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From a technological perspective, many solutions already exist, but there’s a lack of legislation and incentives for accelerated change, according to interviewees in the study. Another key finding is the need for wider public interest and pressure on the industry and its decision-makers.

“The maritime industry has enormous and largely understated opportunities for ordinary citizens,” Joshua Berger, governor’s maritime sector lead for the state of Washington, said. “This is why it is important not only to involve diverse communities planning for maritime, but to draw on their energy as agents of change, key beneficiaries and individuals who care about a sustainable future.”

Universal needs across all maritime cities, such as mixing the maritime work force with urban innovators and streamlining decision-making, could become common ground for a global push, the study said. Innovation undertaken in a joint fashion could potentially see all key players invested in sustainable development across the sector.

The study suggests that standardization is the key to a set of solutions trained on the long term and that effective technologies and strategies must be shared among ports and cities.

“The key to speeding up transformation is simple: inject new thinking, talent and political will,” Risto E.J. Penttilä, CEO of Nordic West Office, a global affairs consultancy and think tank based in Helsinki, and coordinator of the SEA20 network, said.

“Cities have the capability to bring all of these to the table and we believe it is their responsibility, and in their interest, to do so,” Penttilä added. “As the emerging powerhouses of global political influence, maritime cities are in the perfect position to do so and can wield influence toward international regulatory bodies and the industry itself.”

The initiative is pushing to draft principles that unite its members in a number of stated ambitions. The SEA20 network aims to present first drafts of these principles by September 2020.