Blockchain is making waves within the maritime world, but universal standards for the technology are lacking.
Shipping giant Maersk and technology firm IBM’s creation of a blockchain-enabled shipping solution, with over 90 participatory organisations, will in IBM’s words empower multiple trading partners to collaborate by establishing a single shared view of a transaction “without compromising details, privacy or confidentiality”. TradeLens, as it’s known, offers real-time access to shipping data and shipping documents — including the Internet of Things and sensor data from container weight to temperature control.
What makes TradeLens special, however, is the 94 organisations that are actively involved, or that have agreed to take part, in the solution, which is constructed on open standards. Those who are throwing their hat into the ring include container carriers Hamburg Süd and Pacific International Lines as well as logistics companies Damco, Agility and CEVA Logistics. Additionally, over 20 of the world’s port and terminal operators, including APM Terminals, PSA Singapore and Europe’s largest port — the Port of Rotterdam — are piloting the product, with this figure meaning that around 234 marine gateways globally either have been involved or will be actively taking part in the TradeLens initiative.
Universal standards for blockchain undeniably reduce risk and risk management in shipping is to be welcomed. However, the Maersk-IBM platform is not the only blockchain project in the shipping world and many cooks could well spoil the blockchain broth. Just 10 days after TradeLens was revealed, Chinese blockchain startup Yuanben announced that it had inked a Blockchain Technical Service Cooperation Agreement with Maritime Silk Road Platform, the Zhuozhi Logistics Group online public booking platform, to deliver blockchain services for global maritime freight. According to the deal, blockchain will be deployed to provide node deployment, digital content deposit certificates and a search interface for cargo tracking.
Commenting on the agreement, Maritime Silk Road Platform head Dr Cai Kunying said: “This co-operation is a successful example of the combination of emerging blockchain technology and traditional information management system technology. Yuanben blockchain technology will protect the global freight of the Silk Road.”
Those who are throwing their hat into the ring include container carriers Hamburg Süd and Pacific International Lines
Yuanben said that the blockchain services “will truly serve the physical supply chain”, helping grow the latter’s business on a global level and “escort” its international logistics services. Additionally, the blockchain startup claimed that Maritime Silk Road Platform will help its blockchain’s technology “to land and promote the effective connection between blockchain technology and traditionally-recognised economies”.
Head of the blockchain initiative at Yuanben Fan Xi said: “The support for blockchain technology for the offshore silk road is a new expansion and innovation in the application of blockchain. This exemplifies cooperation between emerging blockchain technology and traditional information systems. This successful example of a combination of management system technologies will promote a more efficient, transparent and secure development of the supply chain industry and accelerate the upgrade of global trade.”
On top of this new Chinese blockchain co-operation, July saw Blockchain Labs for Open Collaboration subsidiary Maritime Blockchain Labs unveil a new association to examine how blockchain could help shipping operators better trace bunker fuels’ quality and source (including environmental effect details). BIMCO, Lloyd’s Register and the International Bunker Industry Association are part of the grouping, which will look at how blockchain technologies could help deliver an “efficient, tamper-resistant and auditable chain of custody” for bunker fuels, providing assurances that can aid operators with compliance with tightening global regulations on air pollution and carbon emission reporting. The ultimate goal, according to the consortium, is to lower safety risks and make a more dependable framework for the accurate monitoring of shipping emissions like those of carbon and sulphur.
Once a novel concept, blockchain is now making clear headway in the shipping world. Whether 2018 will go down in shipping history as the year the industry started to take note of the technology is unknown, but so far, the blockchain activities within the sector have served as a good start. The question now, given the disparate moves regarding embracing digital ledgers within shipping, concerns how long it will take for universal shipping standards for the technology to be agreed upon. Blockchain, by its very nature, encapsulates risk reduction for shipping stakeholders, but too much choice and a lack of consistency in standards threaten to do the opposite.