Smart ports key to shipping industry rebound

Louise Maureen Simeon (The Philippine Star) - March 4, 2021 - 12:00am

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

In the latest Asian Development Bank (ADB) blog, Economic Research and Regional Cooperation advisor Yesim Kayalar said having smart ports would help in economic growth in a post-pandemic world.

Globally, about 90 percent of global trade is done by sea and this is the same scenario for the Philippines where the majority of commodities are being traded coastwise.

The pandemic, however, disrupted global and domestic trade.

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

Containers filled port facilities as yard utilization peaked at 98 percent in early April 2020 compared to the usual 60 percent.

“Repeated congestion in developing country ports signals the need to transform, and the pandemic has only emphasized that using smart systems is an imperative,” Kayalar said.

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

The Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) has fasttracked its move to digitally transform its operations to adapt to changes brought about by the pandemic.

It shifted to an online unified passenger ticketing system and automated payment scheme and cargo payment. It also launched its electronic payment portal to reduce face-to-face transactions.

“This is a step in the right direction, but to future-proof port operations and processes, we must 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 emphasized that smart ports use shared data platforms, machine learning and artificial intelligence to plan, manage and troubleshoot core port operations.

“Smart systems with artificial intelligence are increasingly used to help detect when thresholds in port operations are breached. Smart systems can be particularly useful during a crisis when manpower is stretched, reactive decision-making under pressure can make matters worse, or when some functions must be carried out remotely,” she said.

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

Kayalar said smart ports in Busan in Korea, Jurong in Singapore, Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Shanghai in China were not affected as much and they recovered faster compared to ports without smart systems in place.

“Smart ports are indispensable components of economic resilience and recovery through trade. As the pandemic has undeniably shown us, the time to transform is past overdue,” she said.

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