For container lines, one of the primary concerns while hauling is getting the timing right in the context of port calls, which involves the crew to stay clear of untoward happenings while at sea – including equipment malfunctions, hijacking attacks, vagaries of weather, and even congestion near the port. However, roughly 67 percent of container ships arrive at the port a day later than scheduled, causing losses to the shipping lines that amount to billions of dollars annually.
Technology can help bring order to the chaos and uncertainty of port arrivals by optimizing the ship’s time at a port. Port call optimization is a method that can improve the efficiency of port stays while helping container lines reduce emissions and operating costs. For instance, prolonged vessel waiting times force ships to sail faster by burning more fuel to compensate for lost time. Such scenarios can be minimized with a more effective approach in optimizing the interaction between container lines and terminals.
Intelligent Cargo Systems, a London-based maritime technology platform, helps container ships to optimize their port docking time, allowing them to sail early and saving precious time that can be used to sail slower to the next destination. The slower sail speed ensures that carriers save money on fuel consumption.
“We provide real-time port productivity and visibility direct from the vessel for shipping companies. So instead of a shipping company needing to go to the port to have visibility on how many containers are left to load and the time of the ship sailing out, it can be done through our technology that relays this information to their desk,” said Chris Jones, CEO and co-founder of Intelligent Cargo Systems.
During his time as a second officer on-board container ships, Jones understood that the issue of ship delays at the port had a lot to do with people managing shipping fleets rather than the people on-board a vessel. “It is about the visibility of what’s actually going on-board the ship. And if you can’t track the ship by the automatic identification system (AIS) signatures, the management usually doesn’t have any idea on what’s happening on the ships,” he said.
Startups that have mushroomed in the port optimization space tend to work by having a port at the center of optimization, providing efficient services for ships docking at that specific port. Intelligent Cargo Systems looks at this issue from the other end of the spectrum by putting its system on-board the ship, so that the vessel can have its port calls optimized wherever it plans to dock.
“We do have competition from the likes of smart containers and IoT tracking for containers. However, our system can track thousands of containers because we use the ship as the data collection node, rather than individual containers,” said Jones. “We’ve gone past the proof of concept stage and now have deployed operational systems on-board vessels that are being used on a daily basis.”
Although the startup’s system, nicknamed ‘Cargomate,’ works with less than a dozen ships, they are all sizable vessels that sail along global routes. Jones explained that this required the company to ensure its system works across every port in China and Europe, as these were the frequent destinations of its client ships.
Intelligent Cargo Systems is now working on the second version of Cargomate after having received good feedback on its first version, which has been running on two container ships for over a year.
“Cargomate’s second version is significantly easier to use and is designed for seafarers. We also work with the shipping companies to see how the data we’re collecting can be used to improve their operations, either through reduction of idle time of vessels or by improving relations with them and the terminals to increase productivity,” said Jones.