Digitalization, a Smart Choice for Sustainable Shipping?

Digitalization, a Smart Choice for Sustainable Shipping?

Dec. 19 2022 - 3 min


In the mid- to long-term, there are many options ship owners may turn to for greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction. But short-term, one stands out as the most rational and profitable: leveraging digitalization.

As explored in our technology report on smart shipping, making vessels smarter – leveraging data to improve operational efficiency – has multiple benefits for owners looking to comply with international and regional reduction targets. Let’s examine why.

Getting a head start in sustainability

Shipowners will need to use all available measures to meet the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) emissions reduction targets for 2030 and 2050. This is particularly true for vessels at the start of their service life, which must comply with IMO sustainability regulations for at least a couple of decades more.

While several technical options are now available or under development, such as dual-fuel engines, low-carbon fuels, wind-assisted propulsion, these are solutions for fuels and propulsion systems.

Operational efficiency could be a third lever for decarbonization. For example, restricting the vessel’s engine’s speed or shaft power. In this scope, digitalization can help optimize operations, improving environmental performance while buying shipowners time to contemplate more CAPEX-intensive solutions.

Many digital solutions for ships monitor systems performance, greatly increasing the amount of data collected onboard. This information can then be used to optimize vessels, from hull performance (e.g., trim optimization, optimized hull cleaning) to voyage planning (e.g., weather routing). More efficient operations lead to lower fuel consumption, which in turn decreases emissions, making ships more sustainable


Read our latest technology report to learn more about smartships, their key concepts, and why they matter in the shipping industry.


Collecting high-quality data

To reap the full efficiency benefits of digitalization, shipping companies need to collect data in or near to real-time from multiple sources and integrate that data before processing. Data could come from diverse sources including connected ships, eLogs, market intelligence and weather data platforms, and more. This means developing standardized data exchange formats, cleaning strategies and organizational processes for data health and quality management to process high-frequency data efficiently.

Data quality may be assessed along six dimensions: accuracy, completeness, consistency, timeliness, uniqueness and validity. These criteria ensure that all data is available and accounted for, and reflects the state of onboard operations. Shipowners can use two existing standards to determine data quality:

  • ISO 8000 for master, transaction and product data
  • ISO 19848 to exchange and synchronize machinery and equipment data with OEMs and third party IoT solutions

Individualized support for digitalization

While shipowners can clearly use digitalization as a means of achieving greater sustainability, the question of how remains. There is no blueprint detailing the steps from increased connectivity to minimized emissions. Each ship will have specific needs requiring the implementation of different smart and connected functions.

Recognizing the importance of an individualized approach, we guide shipowners to vessel-specific solutions. Our grouped SMART notations, to be released in 2023, will be tailored to vessels at four levels of smartness:

  • SMART 1 for computer-based ships with integrated computer-based systems
  • SMART 2 for connected ships including their data infrastructure, networks and ship-to-shore data communications
  • SMART 3 for augmented ships with solutions and organizations for remote monitoring and remote decision support  
  • SMART 4 for remotely operated and autonomous ships

To protect ship data against cyber security threats, we provide a range of CYBER notations for in-service vessels, newbuilds, ship equipment and computer-based systems.

“Digitalization is not simply keeping up with the latest trend in tech,” says Laurent Hentges, Vice President of Digital Solutions and Transformation. “It is about fundamentally improving ships’ operational and environmental performance. As a classification society, our role is to support owners in making a purposeful transition, with a focus on compliance and sustainability.”