Smart ports key to rebound in shipping industry

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MANILA, Philippines – Equipping ports with smart technologies will help island economies like the Philippines recover from the trade disruption caused by the pandemic.

In the latest blog from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Economic Research and Regional Cooperation Advisor Yesim Kayalar said having smart ports will contribute to economic growth in a post-pandemic world.

Globally, around 90 percent of world trade is carried out by sea and the same is true for the Philippines where the majority of products are traded along the coasts.

The pandemic, however, disrupted global and domestic trade.

In Manila, Kayalar said ports became congested shortly after mobility restrictions were imposed in the city.

The containers filled the port facilities while the use of the yards peaked at 98% in early April 2020, against 60% usually.

“The repeated congestion in the ports of developing countries signals the need to transform, and the pandemic has only underscored that the use of smart systems is an imperative,” Kayalar said.

“Ports facilitate economic connectivity and growth, especially for island countries. This is how goods are cost-effectively moved to and from the rest of the world, and goods that are not available in the country become accessible to its people and businesses, ”she said.

The Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) has accelerated its decision to digitally transform its operations to adapt to the changes brought on by the pandemic.

It has moved to a unified online ticketing system for passengers and an automated payment and freight payment system. It also launched its electronic payment portal to reduce face-to-face transactions.

“This is a step in the right direction, but to ensure the sustainability of port operations and processes, we need to go beyond the simple paperless transaction modality,” Kayalar said.

“The recent global health crisis has underscored that investing in smart port systems and infrastructure is no longer a question of if, but when,” she said.

Kayalar pointed out that smart ports use shared data platforms, machine learning and artificial intelligence to plan, manage and troubleshoot basic port operations.

“Intelligent systems with artificial intelligence are increasingly used to help detect threshold violations in port operations. Intelligent systems can be particularly useful during a crisis when the workforce is called upon, responsive decision-making under pressure can make matters worse, or when certain functions need to be performed remotely, ”she said.

“Smart systems, with built-in responses for any likely scenario, can drive port operations forward,” Kayalar said.

Kayalar said the smart ports of Busan in Korea, Jurong in Singapore, Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Shanghai in China were not affected as much and that they recover faster than ports without smart systems in place.

“Smart ports are essential elements of economic resilience and trade recovery. As the pandemic has undeniably shown us, it is high time to transform, ”she said.


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