Finland aims at leading automation and digitalisation in maritime transport

Finland aims at leading automation and digitalisation in maritime transport
Testing of the remote Suomenlinna II ferry in front of the Port of Helsinki. Image courtesy of ABB.

Finland aims at being one of the world leaders in developing the digitalisation and automation of maritime transport. In this article, Valtteri Laine, special adviser at Traficom, the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency explains how Finland is influencing the development of maritime digitalisation and automation to help lower operating costs, cut GHG emissions, and improve safety.

Maritime transport in Finland

Maritime industry and well-functioning merchant shipping connections are important to Finland since about 90 per cent of our exports and 80 per cent of imports are carried by sea. Therefore, smoothly flowing, reliable, safe, environmentally sound and affordable sea connections are essential for our foreign trade. Maritime transport and related maritime industry – on a larger scale, the whole Finnish maritime cluster – also play a central role in enabling Finnish welfare and competitiveness.

A port is a transport chain hub connecting land and maritime transport. Almost all export and import transports in Finland are carried via ports, and at the same time, the transit traffic increases the flow of goods through ports. The Finnish port network is comprehensive, covering coastal areas and the inland waterways of Lake Saimaa. Measured by amount of goods, our largest ports are ports of Sköldvik, Helsinki and HaminaKotka. Some of the Finnish ports are so-called winter ports, kept open by means of icebreakers.

Because about 70 per cent of all freight transport to and from Finland is carried via ports of the Baltic and North Sea, we have to ensure that maritime traffic in our seas is safe, efficient and sustainable. Ships sailing under the Finnish flag as well as all other vessels must be handled by competent staff and be even more energy-efficient than before. We cannot ensure these objectives alone but in collaboration with our Baltic neighbours and in international forums, such as the EU and International Maritime Organization (IMO). At the same time, Finland may get an opportunity to provide solutions for the sustainable future of global maritime transport.

Experiments and testing

Finland aims at being one of the world leaders in developing the digitalisation and automation of maritime transport. New technological solutions in maritime transport provide practical examples of utilising digitalisation and automation, including the optimisation of vessel routes and engine power, use of augmented reality on navigating bridges, remote control of ship operations, and autonomous vessels.

Several leading companies creating new technological solutions for the needs of maritime transport together with universities and research institutions are based in Finland. In Finland, full-scale experiments on the use of autonomous and remote-controlled vessels have been carried out successfully, gaining well-deserved attention also internationally. In 2018, the shipowner Finferries demonstrated the world’s first fully autonomous ferry in the Finnish archipelago, whereas ABB and Helsinki City Transport successfully completed the world’s first remote trial for an existing passenger ferry.

In addition, Finland also boasts an internationally unique, open-to-all maritime test area Jaakonmeri, located in the coastal area of Finland. The test area enables maritime technology experiments, such as trials with remote-controlled and autonomous vessels. The goal is to establish a similar test area further in the Baltic Sea which would allow for the Baltic countries to experiment in cooperation at the transport system level as well.

International impact

Finland aims at influencing the development of maritime digitalisation and automation in both the IMO and in the EU together with other leading countries in the field. This development is estimated to generate new innovations which will reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from ships, lower operating costs and contribute to maritime safety. The development of maritime technology is also thought to challenge ports to develop their operations to meet the new needs of maritime transport.

Technology to address environmental issues

The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to keep the global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This poses significant challenges for maritime transport because the IMO has, based on the Paris climate agreement, set a goal to reduce the total annual greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 per cent by 2050 compared to 2008. While the maritime sector’s share in global emissions is currently at only 3 per cent, it is estimated to grow between 50 per cent and 250 per cent by 2050, if left unregulated. In 2050, the maritime sector could be responsible for 17 per cent of global GHG emissions, according to a study commissioned by the European parliament.

In addition to new energy production solutions, the development of digitalisation is considered one of the means to reach the goals set by the IMO. However, the strongly international maritime sector has not yet fully utilised the opportunities provided by digitalisation in order to contribute to the climate objectives. Consequently, by improving the current situation with regard to digitalisation and exchange of information, we can affect the greenhouse gas emissions from the maritime sector in two ways. Firstly, digitalisation is assessed to be an efficient tool in collecting, distributing and analysing data. Secondly, systems based on digitalisation and data utilisation are forecasted to profoundly change the current business models of the maritime sector. Substantial emission reductions could be achieved by, for example, optimising the freight transport capacity and sea crossings of ships as well as cargo handling in ports.

Autonomous vessel test area on the west coast of Finland.

Digitalisation and the maritime industry

The development of maritime technology digitalisation is estimated to have positive effects on the whole marine logistics chain. In this chain, the ports act as digital links in a value chain and as transport hubs with hinterland and foreland connections. For example, the so-called Just-In-Time arrival to ports minimises the time spent in anchoring and enables optimisation of travel speed. Both of these still require developing the current transport contract models. In addition, the maritime sector needs data covering the whole logistic chain that is up-to-date, standardised and safe, and consensus on the benefits of sharing open data.

An important goal regarding the exchange of information in the EU is to have the declarations and cargo documentation related to port calls and carriages by sea in a digital, machine-readable form and to follow the single report principle when saving data in the system. To achieve this goal, a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on electronic freight transport information has been proposed, and establishing a European Maritime Single Window environment is in process.

Risk management

Developing the digitalisation and automation of maritime transport is forecasted to affect the safety of maritime transport. From a legislative point of view, the key issues concern the command and officers of ships. When ships become autonomous or remote-controlled, the question arises how the command of a ship is defined and demonstrated. Other central questions are related to rules of the waterways, training and qualification requirements of the crew, cybersecurity as well as liability, compensation and insurance issues.

In general, the development of digitalisation and automation is seen as positive from the point of view of maritime safety, since it brings along new opportunities for development. When a ship’s navigation, engine functions, stability and other aspects are monitored both by the crew and from shore, it is deemed to provide redundancy and thus new kind of safety. On the other hand, the current technological development is seen as a threat. Encounters of traditional and autonomous ships at sea as well as poor situational and automation awareness in the remote-control centre are deemed to pose a risk of accident. In addition, the development of automation does not erase the possibility for a human error, but merely relocates it from sea to shore. To prevent these and other such risks from materialising into accidents, Finland considers that it is important to invest in the risk management of technological development both at the national and international level.

The Baltic Sea region is developing in cooperation

Finland is actively involved in the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. The strategy encompasses defining the common objectives for the region as well as an action plan for developing the whole Baltic Sea region and addressing common challenges. The Baltic Sea Strategy has three central goals which include saving the sea, increasing prosperity and connecting the region. The EU member states involved in the strategy are Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. The strategy is also welcoming cooperation with EU neighbouring countries Russia, Iceland, Norway and Belarus.

The strategy includes 13 Policy Areas, of which the most significant for the maritime sector are the PA SAFE (Policy Area on Maritime Safety and Security) and PA SHIP (Policy Area on Clean Shipping). PA SAFE focuses on developing maritime safety in the Baltic Sea region. Denmark and Finland coordinate PA SAFE together. PA SHIP aims at contributing to clean shipping in the Baltic Sea and is coordinated by Denmark, Finland being involved as an active member. Other Policy Areas include PA TRANSPORT where maritime transport has a role as a part of the transport system of the Baltic Sea region.