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How artificial intelligence is steering shipping in the 21st century

As the shipping industry increasingly adopts technology to stay on the move, North P&I Club reveals how it is using artificial intelligence to support key operations.


The shipping industry is one with centuries of tradition and a proud history, particularly here in the North East.

Newcastle is home to the global marine insurer North P&I Club, which has been insuring vessels, their cargo and crew for more than 160 years, while the region’s fishing industry has been immortalised in songs such as ‘When The Boat Comes In’ and is still going strong.

However, as times change, so do ways of doing things, and this industry steeped in tradition is increasingly one of the most forward-thinking around.

As an example, artificial intelligence (AI) is fast gaining traction in shipping, with tools targeting regulatory compliance and cost reduction already well established. 

While safety solutions have been slower to take off, their value is quickly becoming evident.

With more and more shipowners recognising the potential of artificial intelligence to enhance their operations, the technology is gaining widespread acceptance throughout the maritime sector. 

In marine insurance, too, AI is proving to be of significant value.

North P&I Club currently deploys two AI tools to support its loss-prevention and risk-assessment services.

Quest Marine P&I, from insurance analytics expert Concirrus, analyses large volumes of data to provide individual risk scores for North members, based on which the Club can adjust its offering. 

The second solution, from predictive intelligence company Windward, is geared towards sanctions monitoring, with automated reports informing North of any sanctions risks within its registered fleet. 

In the wider maritime community, shipowners are showing a clear preference for systems that support regulatory compliance and reduce costs.

Accordingly, the main growth area for AI in shipping is voyage optimisation – the process of working out the best routes for vessels to carry out their tasks.

Specialist voyage optimisation tools work to analyse the most efficient routes for vessels to take at sea. 

This process can cut overall fuel consumption by up to five per cent, reducing costs considerably while supporting compliance with maritime regulations.

Another important maritime application for AI is condition monitoring, which is looking at the state of various components on a vessel and analysing which of them need servicing, upgrading or replacing. 

This sees data from onboard sensors fed through machine learning programs to determine the best time to perform equipment maintenance.

Depending on condition, the system might recommend delaying replacement, saving the owner money on planned maintenance. 

If the part needs replacing sooner than anticipated, the owner could save money by avoiding machinery failure.

So far, the adoption of AI systems in shipping has been driven mainly by environmental regulation and financial incentives.

Safety-focused AI solutions are popular in sectors where safety is a competitive issue, like the tanker segment, and among more forward-thinking companies with well-defined environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategies. 

As time goes on, and the bottom-line benefits of adopting such systems become more apparent, it is likely these systems will be used even more widely.

For example, if an AI tool prevents an incident at sea, it not only has significant health and safety benefits, but also spares the owner commercial disruption and legal issues. 

Equally, if the technology eases the burden on seafarers – and allows them to feel safe and secure on board – it is likely to help with crew retention and recruitment, which will boost profitability in turn. 

The more these systems are deployed, the more data they will produce and the clearer their benefits will become.

As further evidence of North’s commitment to maximising safety through digital solutions, the Club has a long-term contract with geospatial intelligence specialist Geollect, a UK-based company that provides data services for North’s Marine Intelligence Platform. 

At the heart of this suite of digital tools is MyGlobeView, a market-leading interactive solution that enables North members and correspondents to identify commercial risks and physical threats to shipping.

The platform provides exclusive access to more than 60 alerting and reporting features, including the COVID-19 Tracker application, which won the 2020 SAFETY4SEA Technology Award for its contribution to maritime safety.

Route Risk Advice, meanwhile, helps shipowners better understand the potential hazards of a voyage, from port of origin to destination. 

Users of the application can establish bespoke reports for specific routes or locations, which North supplements with in-house expertise and knowledge from its claims, legal and loss-prevention teams. 

As solutions like Quest, Windward and North’s Marine Intelligence Platform demonstrate, shipboard AI and digital safety tools are already adept at identifying risks. 

When the underlying technology matures to the point where it can respond to those risks without human intervention, vessels could even be steering themselves.

For now, though, these solutions are making life easier for seafarers while helping shipowners improve operations across the board, and making a historic industry sail into the future with confidence.