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TECHNOLOGY is having a dramatic effect on the entire maritime industry and industry players and organisations alike are responding to the challenge.
The effects are due to a mixture of regulatory changes and the evolving, increasingly competitive business environment. Ports are having to be more efficient and meet the demand for cleaner technologies such as using Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) for fuelling ships. Singapore, through the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) as well as various stakeholders, is at the forefront of these developments.
"We're seeing technology change the way business is done, not only in the port industry, but also across the whole supply chain. PSA has been driving efforts to develop advanced technologies, enhance port productivity, as well as contribute to a sustainable ecosystem," said PSA International South-east Asia regional CEO Ong Kim Pong.
"To better prepare us for the future economy, we have placed emphasis on reskilling our people and focusing on innovation and intelligent systems, as we continue to work on new technologies, with some already operational in our terminals. These include automation and remote operations using smart systems both in operational and engineering processes," added Mr Ong.
Among the measures MPA has taken is to collaborate with other ports as well as drive innovation on its own. For example, it has signed a memorandum of cooperation (MOC) with the Ports and Harbours Bureau of Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT).
"The situation surrounding port sectors is dramatically changing. For example, the size of container vessels is getting larger. Shipping lines are restructuring their business strategies, including decisions on alliances," said ports and harbours bureau director, Michio Kikuchi.
MPA chief executive Andrew Tan said: "The signing of the MOC is timely given the changes taking place in the maritime sector with the advent of new technologies, rise of the digital economy and shifts in world trade. We also look forward to working with leading ports such as Yokohama to promote LNG bunkering in the region."
Leveraging on its advantage as the world's biggest bunkering centre, MPA is working hard to position Singapore as a world leader in providing access to clean marine fuels such as LNG.
MPA continues to develop the LNG bunkering market in Singapore as well as work with other international port authorities to build a network of ports around the world to make available LNG as a bunker fuel.
MPA has commenced an LNG bunkering pilot programme, launching Singapore's first LNG Truck Loading Facility at the SLNG Terminal earlier this month.
This will serve as a platform to test operational procedures and safety protocols for LNG bunkering and help prepare the port of Singapore to be ready to service a range of vessel types and sizes when LNG becomes widely adopted as part of the marine fuel mix.
Located within the SLNG Terminal on Jurong Island, the single-bay facility is an important first step towards helping to facilitate truck-to-ship LNG bunkering. The facility allows small quantities of LNG to be transported overland, including locations in the port from where LNG may be delivered to ships for use as fuel, MPA said.
"As the leading bunkering hub in the world, we need to ensure that we cater to the future energy needs of the global shipping industry by providing cleaner, alternative sources of fuel. While it may take time for LNG to take off as a marine fuel globally, we have taken steps to kick-start LNG bunkering in Singapore through our LNG Bunkering Pilot Programme," said Mr Tan.
With the maritime sector undergoing significant transformation, MPA is leveraging technology to help maritime companies innovate and move into new growth areas and also boost Singapore's hub port competitiveness at the same time.
MPA will be establishing the MPA Living Lab, and working with partners to set up three Centres of Excellence to deepen maritime R&D competencies. The facility will provide a technology partnership platform, with sufficient scale and real operating conditions in the port of Singapore, that technology providers and industry partners can plug into for the co-development and piloting of innovations.
The MPA Living Lab will focus on developing capabilities in the areas of data analytics and intelligent systems, autonomous systems and robotics, smart and innovative infrastructure and safety and security.
Research in big data applications for example can help to harness data for smarter decision-making and optimised port operations, while work is also being done to optimise land and sea space by leveraging innovative engineering and technologies such as the use of multi-purpose floating platforms for ship mooring and berthing.
Mr Tan said: "The MPA Living Lab will be the first of its kind in the region and will not only help Singapore to transform its maritime sector into a high technology industry through the test-bedding and development of new systems and capabilities for future port operations but also enable companies to test-bed locally developed solutions under actual operating conditions, bringing these technologies closer to commercialisation and internationalisation."
In addition, MPA has also renewed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with DNV GL to promote research and development (R&D) and innovation in the maritime industry. The MOU will have an expanded scope to include the R&D of intelligent shipping systems such as autonomous vessels and drones for maritime purposes, the use of data analytics to create robust and optimal shipping solutions.
The agreement will also examine how ports can be made greener through the use of energy saving and emission reduction technology in infrastructure, processes and harbourcraft as well as look at projects which can help to cut emissions and boost fuel efficiency, through improvements in operational maintenance and the use of LNG as an alternative fuel.
MPA has also directly tried to kickstart the greater use of LNG, launching in 2015, a S$12 million co-funding programme to fund the building of LNG-fuelled vessels in a move to stimulate demand for LNG as a marine fuel.
In line with promoting the development and growth of the LNG bunkering industry, MPA has been collaborating with industry partners and stakeholders, both local and international, on joint industry projects on LNG bunkering in Singapore.
This will help to standardise specifications for LNG as a marine fuel, as well as bunkering procedures and safety requirements, and crew competency requirements for LNG bunkering.
MPA is also working on the harmonisation of LNG bunkering standards with Ports of Antwerp, Zeebrugge and Rotterdam while also engaging Asian ports that are keen to work together to further encourage the adoption of LNG as a marine fuel through a network of LNG bunker-ready ports across the East and West shipping routes.
Meanwhile, other commercial entities are working on practical applications for LNG. For example, Finnish technology group Wartsila is working with Cosco Shipping Heavy Industry Co (CHI) on the joint development of a natural gas operating fleet concept.
This design has now obtained a Lloyd's Register's (LR) Approval in Principle (AiP) certificate. The concept aims to offer global operators a more efficient and economical fleet design that meets current and anticipated environmental requirements according to the classification rules.
The fleet comprises four vessels; a pusher tug, LNG storage barge, LNG regasification barge, and a floating liquefaction natural gas barge. The pusher tug can be used to transport the three barges.
The concept's operational flexibility, combined with competitive capex and opex costs will help to offer global operators a more efficient and economical fleet design that meets current and anticipated environmental requirements according to the classification rules, Wartsila said.
The concept is also scalable and flexible, it noted, adding that the pusher tug provides mobility to all the elements. As such, the number and type of units can be adapted to the nature of each project.
For example, the concept can be utilised to act as an LNG carrier (using only the pusher tug and LNG storage barge), or it can be used for more complex projects involving liquefaction and regasification systems (using all units).
The modular design of Wartsila's liquefaction and regasification units makes this an ideal concept for gas plants in the 50-200 MW range. The low draft design also makes it very attractive for gas power plant projects in South-east Asia, the group suggested.
"This is a new and innovative fleet concept that is designed to create better efficiencies for companies involved in any part of the natural gas supply chain. By combining CHI's know-how in this field with Wartsila's vast technological competences, we have together taken yet another step forward in creating an optimal LNG supply chain," said Sanjay Verma, South-east Asia business development director, Wartsila Marine Solutions.
"We have worked together with Wartsila for many years in various marine and offshore projects. This natural gas operating fleet concept is a new and exciting development, which should bring extensive customer benefits. CHI will continue to focus on LNG related business, and extend its market influence, research and development for LNG projects." said general manager of CHI technical R&D centre Zhao Zhijian.