Sea Logistics

Trends in Maritime Logistics for 2021

It’s been a chaotic year for many industries – and maritime logistics is no exception. In fact, due to the globalized economy, any changes and disruptions to consumer trends directly impact the maritime shipping and transportation sector. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that global maritime trade will plunge by 4.1% in 2020 due to COVID-19.

The maritime logistics industry is likely to look a little different as it recovers. Some of the changes that took place during 2020 will have far-reaching implications for climate change, marine technology and innovation, and data collection. Here are the trends we expect to see in the shipping industry in 2021 and beyond.

Changes to maritime logistics in 2020

UNCTAD’s report details just how deep an impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on supply chains, shipping networks, and ports. The 4.1% drop in global maritime trade is the outcome of a multifaceted problem – one that began even before the pandemic with strained trade relations between many nations.

“Amid supply-chain disruptions, demand contractions, and global economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic, the global economy was severely affected by a twin supply and demand shock,” wrote UNCTAD. “These trends unfolded against the backdrop of an already weaker 2019 that saw international maritime trade lose further momentum. Lingering trade tensions and high policy uncertainty undermined growth in global economic output and merchandise trade.”

Ship port calls are one metric that quantifies the slowdown in marine transport during the COVID-19 pandemic. Initial reports from UNCTAD found that in the first 24 weeks of 2020, ship port calls around the globe slid 8.7% as compared to the first 24 weeks of 2019. By week 24, calls were down -20.8% as compared to the same time, 2019. And, fewer calls were the norm across sectors of the maritime shipping industry.

Global ocean logistics slowed down remarkably during the last year – the question remains, can it recover? What long-lasting impact will 2020 have on the ocean logistics industry?

Trends in maritime logistics in 2021

The pandemic has provided an opportunity for the ocean logistics industry to reassess and recalibrate. Here are some of the more permanent changes and issues we expect to see addressed moving forward.

New sources of data collection

Changes to marine logistics don’t just have commercial implications; they can impact data collection for researchers and scientists. Historically, ships have been an important source of data for marine weather forecasters. The vastness of the oceans means that forecasters must rely on a combination of visual observations made by ship crew and satellite-based proxy measurements. Observations coming from ocean vessels are typically collected from the same shipping routes over and over again, measuring the same regions of the ocean and limiting the data received.

The decrease in the number of ships traveling during 2020 further constricted the amount of data collected for marine weather forecasting. And, compounding the issue, some organizations are assessing whether a long-term shift in shipping routes is needed. Some experts suggest reconfiguring routes for shorter supply chains and faster ocean transit times to lessen the impact of future global emergencies. This would severely impact a marine forecaster’s ability to collect data from different regions of the ocean.

These changes will encourage organizations to invest in networks of marine weather buoys to collect accurate data. By setting up distributed networks of low-cost nodes, marine forecasters can increase the density and redundancy of their data sources, thereby generating more data to feed into models for greater forecasting accuracy. Marine weather buoys provide a more accurate, more reliable data collection method than anecdotal evidence from ships traveling the same regions repetitively.

Renewed commitment…

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