Seaports are critical infrastructures to keep supply chains moving and economies across the world functioning. This becomes especially visible in times of global crisis. A great variety of business and government actors interact in port communities to ensure multimodal flows of vital medical and food supplies, critical agricultural products, energy streams and other goods and services reach their intended destinations in time.
Port community interactions comprise physical interactions – such as cargo handling operations, vessel-related services and supplies and multimodal transfers – as well as exchanges of data that facilitate clearance of cargo between jurisdictions. Being part of larger transport and logistics supply chains and representing clusters of companies and businesses in themselves, ports are well-placed to fully grasp the potential generated by the latest wave of technological innovation and integration, so that physical and data interactions occur in a safe, secure, efficient and overall sustainable manner.
The COVID-19 crisis has painfully demonstrated the heterogeneous landscape that currently exists across ports worldwide. While some port communities seized the opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution and developed into full-fledged ‘smart’ ports, many others have barely grasped the essentials of digitalisation and continue to struggle with larger reliance on personal interaction and paper-based transactions as the norms for shipboard, ship-port interface and port-hinterland based exchanges. As an illustration, only 49 of the 174 Member States of the International Maritime Organization have functioning Port Community Systems to date, systems which are considered the cornerstone of any port in the current digitalised business landscape.
With the world’s attention now focused on exiting from lockdowns and preparing for a ‘new normal’, there is an urgent need for inter-governmental organisations, governments and industry stakeholders concerned with maritime trade and logistics to come together and accelerate the pace of digitalisation so that port communities across the world can at least offer a basic package of electronic commerce and data exchange, in compliance with all relevant contractual and regulatory obligations.
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