Between pandemic-driven supply issues and the global rise in weather volatility, the last two years have highlighted the vital importance and operational vulnerability of the shipping industry.
Increasingly, shipping companies must operate in weather conditions on the edge of safety limits, and ship owners and operators are turning to weather-enriched vessel routing data to help make the tough calls with greater confidence. This is especially important for maintaining crew and cargo safety in rapidly changing conditions.
For example, in early 2022, three consecutive storms in the North Sea wreaked havoc on area vessels. The Dutch Coast Guard and other European authorities issued weather warnings as fierce storms moved across the region, with top winds recorded at 122 miles per hour (mph). The high winds and stormy seas unmoored the freighter Julietta D, which collided with the Pechora Star. Although both ships were damaged, their crews were evacuated safely. However, the storms toppled cargo. The Panama-registered Marcos V, sailing from Bremerhaven, Germany, to Rotterdam, Netherlands, reported that at least 26 empty 40-foot containers were lost overboard, and images showed additional boxes hanging from the ship’s side with several stacks collapsed.
Shipping disasters like these illustrate the need for enhanced coordination between ships and shore around the options captains have to protect their crew, ship, and cargo from severe weather. Skilled master mariners with weather expertise, fueled by actionable insights, can act as risk communicators, and provide various options based on calculated risk.
Delivering value to the top business drivers
Market and regulatory pressures drive the need for integrated data from multiple sources to ensure the shipping industry remains competitive. Weather intelligence is an integral part of these operational decisions and can ensure safer, more efficient operations. For instance, fuel consumption, which can account for half of the operating costs, allows for significant savings when integrated with weather data — especially with the recent spike in fuel prices. Optimal weather routing can offer fuel savings up to 5%, depending on the type of vessel, the season, and the conditions.
A recent DTN research report surveying 150 shipping companies revealed the key business drivers for purchasing enriched weather data are reducing fuel consumption and ensuring crew, ship, and cargo safety. The industry also actively seeks integrated solutions that help reduce costs and carbon emissions while maintaining high safety levels, such as weather-enabled routing.
By integrating weather-enriched vessel routing data into their systems, shipping companies can generate route options based on time, cost, and fuel constraints — either with or without an estimated time of arrival (ETA). Weather-optimized route networks support port-to-port route planning, accounting for navigational restrictions and port approaches. Most important, however, is to secure crew, vessel, and cargo safety throughout the voyage by avoiding severe weather. This can be achieved by calculating alternative routes or with variable-speed routing.
The shipping industry is at a crossroads where enriched weather data integration is a strategic imperative to better position companies to face the challenges ahead.
Addressing the data integration challenge
As computing power and metocean models become more robust, so does the data. For example, one DTN marine weather dataset using an ensemble of models produces terabytes of information for a single wave forecast. The data compounded for hourly forecasts would be too massive for traditional systems. Cloud-based solutions and flexible APIs integrated into ship systems not only manage the large datasets but also provide mariners with real-time information when and how they need it.
Every shipping company has data integration projects running; however, these are often siloed. Digitalization delivers the greatest value when performed across an organization, built on a data-sharing culture with processes and people driven by a clear leadership buy-in and company mission.
Many respondents to the research felt that these fundamentals are missing, which provides a significant barrier to accelerating digitalization and data integration projects. The report highlights the single biggest obstacle to digitalization: poor data collection processes, confirmed by 45% of respondents.
Optimal weather routing can offer fuel savings up to 5%.
Sophisticated data integration projects typically rely on proprietary systems used by market leaders who are more advanced in their integration journey. But, increasingly, the availability of innovative single-system platforms featuring pre-integrated data makes access to similar capabilities possible. With strict regulations on the horizon, the number of shipping companies that adopt a single system will grow as data integration becomes an essential requirement. And, with these single-system platforms available via API, it’s easier than ever for every shipping company to unlock the weather intelligence they need.
Full weather data integration is an emerging phase in digitalization for the shipping sector. Companies are understandably focused on vessel improvements, like fuel type and ship engine optimization, first. But as they attempt to navigate increasingly complex market conditions, combining these existing optimization approaches with weather-enhanced use cases and enriched weather data will help ensure greater decision-making confidence for all.
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