Digitising ports for continental trade

Digitalization is the new normal; it represents our maritime industry's present and future.

The transition towards the digital revolution has spurred up the global maritime industry. Digitalization will enable nations to deeply engage in the global economy, resulting in improved developmental outcomes. The maritime industry is interconnected, and digital technology trends will be necessary for competitiveness and efficiency. Digitalization is the new normal; it represents our maritime industry’s present and future.

Ghana’s strategic location within the sub-region must offer us the impetus to lead the maritime digital revolution agenda as part of our National Integrated Maritime Strategy (NIMS).

Digital technology will assist to streamline all parts of maritime transport such as cross-border processes including documentation, boosting our competitiveness, enhancing our attractiveness, eliminating port nuisances, lowering carbon footprint, improving our transit time, addressing concerns connected to cargo traceability at the terminal, communications between ships and port states, data sharing between port states, creating new business opportunities, improving safety, security, and environmental concerns, enhancing port efficiency, transforming supply chains with a particular emphasis on port management systems.

The Covid 19 Pandemic has underscored the need of sustaining our maritime gateways, supply chains, and economies through digitalization by reducing human interface. The maritime industry is critical to the supply of essential goods, energy products, and agricultural supplies, among other things. Any bottleneck in this supply chain will have far-reaching consequences for the governmental and private sectors, as well as the populace. These obstacles will contribute considerably to shortages of essential items, increased prices, and, in the near term, a slowing of economic growth and an increase in unemployment.

Many port states, particularly those in developed nations have made enormous strides toward the fourth industrial revolution by transforming their ports into complete smart ports. However, most developing nations continue to lag by depending primarily on manual port operations which are characterized by arbitrary decisions, corruption, undue delays, port inefficiency, and greater logistic and shipping expenses, all of which have a detrimental impact on the economy. If nothing else, the Covid 19 pandemic has taught us valuable lessons about over-reliance on humans in our everyday operations.

It is critical to emphasize that any port state within our sub-region that implements a fully-fledged digitalization program as a strategic anchor to the growth of its maritime sector will reap significant economic benefits and will be on the cutting-edge and will have a competitive advantage over its peers.

Ghana must leverage the advancement of technology to accelerate its digitalization drive in the maritime sector. We’ve made some progress in that regard so far, but there’s more work to be done. For example, our premier maritime gateway, the Tema Port, has been able to provide a seamless Single Window system for all port users to effectively ensure ease of doing business. The Paperless Port System has essentially reduced human interface, reduced the turnaround time, eliminated duplication of examinations and inspections by various regulatory agencies, limited corruption, and generally increased port efficiency.

This implies that both the import and export operations are now carried out through an online system that stores all pertinent key information in a database. It allows for the convenience of doing business without having to be physically present at the port area. This is because shipping line agents can remotely make bookings online even before their vessels call at the port, whereas freight forwarders can remotely get their invoices on the system, obtain the necessary import licenses, and permits, and even make payments even before their cargoes arrive.

The Terminal Operating Systems (TOS) of the Tema Port, notably the MPS terminal, also known as Terminal 3, are of world-class standard due to their extensive use of technology and automation in their cargo handling operations. Freight forwarders, truck drivers, and clients can schedule appointments using the Truck Appointment System (TAS) to acquire access to the MPS terminal 3 at their convenience, as well as access to the system’s database for personal information and available containers. The turnaround time for loading and unloading containerized cargoes at MPS terminal 3 is three days, which is comparable to any port in advanced countries. These digital and automated solutions can be extended to the other terminals at the Tema Port. It is an achievement that can be attributed to making the proper investment decisions through digitalization.

Takoradi port is likewise undergoing a massive transformation into a world-class port owing to advances in technology and automation, and the Keta port is also slated for similar development.

Given the increased trade volumes in our ports, the Ghana Maritime Authority, in collaboration with its Danish counterparts, will shortly implement E-Navigation to ensure safety inside our territorial waters and preserve life and property.

However, there are additional crucial spheres that we must explore to offer all-around digitalization for the development of our maritime industry. For instance, the use of technology such as low-cost sensors to relay information on the conditions of key infrastructures in and around the port area such as depots, terminals, roads, warehouses, railways, quay walls, and so on by transmitting real-time data about the state or conditions of these infrastructures to enable port authorities to proactively carry out maintenance and repair works. This will greatly reduce the likelihood of unanticipated port downtime.

We can also deploy digital technological safety and security solutions to protect port personnel and assets through access control, video surveillance and analytics, behaviour analysis, anti-theft and anti-fraud, biometric identification, and sensor-based systems that can assist trucks and cargo-handling types of equipment to be properly positioned for safety and security reasons.

In terms of environmental protection and energy efficiency, motion-sensitive lighting systems within the port area can be used to reduce energy consumption levels, as air quality sensors, which allow for environmental and regulatory agencies to monitor and receive a real-time report on sulphur dioxide emission from vessels that call or leave the port can also be deployed.

As it is being done in advanced countries, drones for both air and submarine as well as sensors can be used to monitor marine traffic, evaluate infrastructure, and examine seabed among other things, without interfering with port operations.

Growing digital integration, however, is not without risk. Cybersecurity is currently one of the most significant concerns confronting the maritime sector. Fortunately, Ghana is up to the challenge, having established the Ghana Cybersecurity Authority through the Cybersecurity Act, 2020 (Act 1038) with the mandate to secure the government, businesses, and citizens from any cybersecurity threat or attack.

It is important to ensure that the considerable gains made within our maritime industry are consolidated and protected while we strive to achieve the full benefits of technological innovation through digitalization.

Ghana has the potential to become a maritime hub in our sub-region if we can demonstrate our political commitment to prioritizing the maritime industry and making the necessary investments and technological advancements.

The writer is the Executive Director of the Institute for African Maritime Development. He can be reached on: [email protected]


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