Big Data in Shipping: Insights for Operational Optimisation

The use of big data in the maritime industry is widely regarded as the next revolutionary breakthrough. By definition, big data refers to expansive and diverse datasets that expand at an accelerated pace. Currently, big data has already made significant advancements across multiple sectors, ranging from banking and finance to healthcare. As the demand for improved operational efficiency and cost-effectiveness in shipping operations continues to escalate, big data stands poised to wield its influence within the maritime industry.

Indeed, in today’s digital age, competition is stiff in various industries, including the maritime sector, and companies are constantly looking to invest in solutions that can help them boost productivity while lowering overall expenses. Consequently, the demand for more advanced and innovative solutions like marine data analysis is rising at an impressive rate among various end users, such as commercial shippers. To gain a comprehensive understanding of the relevance of big data analytics in the shipping industry, this article explores the potential applications of big data in optimising maritime operations. 

What is Big Data?

The concept of big data revolves around extensive and intricate sets of information that surpass the capacity of standard methods for handling, examining, and utilising data. Gaining a comprehensive understanding of this concept and its intricacies necessitates delving into the era preceding the advent of big data, wherein data collection followed distinct patterns. Fundamentally, data can be categorised into two fundamental types based on its source: traditional and non-traditional.

Traditional data is taken from different conventional systems and sources, such as ships, warehouses, and dockyards, and includes fuel costs, commuting expenses, insurance, wages, and transmit time. Traditional data often remains fixed and is utilised to calculate losses or profits. Meanwhile, non-traditional data is dependent on time and is constantly changing, such as unexpected repairs, traffic delays, and weather. It may be quantifiable, and the information is derived from different sources and formats like images, videos, audio, and texts.

Fundamentally, big data brings together these diverse sources, discerns patterns within the data, and establishes a cloud-based database—a centralised system that comprehensively stores, analyses, and retrieves the entirety of the data. In simpler terms, big data resembles an immense cloud that continuously receives vast volumes of data from various sources, encompassing both traditional and non-traditional realms. By correlating the available information, big data discerns concealed patterns and generates real-time predictions. 

How Big Data Can Help Optimise Vessel and Port Operations

  • Predicting Natural Forces: Weather and Water Conditions

Big data has great potential benefits for the maritime sector. Since the maritime industry is a complex transportation system that is primarily dependent on natural factors, it could profit big time with the use of big data. Since the shipping industry is subject to the forces of nature, it requires key players to always act fast and adapt to changing situations. This involves making snap decisions while taking into consideration innumerable parameters at the same time.

With the adoption of big data analytics in the shipping industry, it may already be possible to predict how natural forces, such as the weather and the waters, may change. As vessels travel over the seas, they produce data from various sources and in multiple formats. This influx of data from the maritime industry is collected and organised in a cloud-based system. Such data is then analysed by big data tools, which offer limitless possibilities. With this, historical weather data can be examined, and based on the findings, extreme weather conditions can be circumvented. This will help prevent costly problems, such as container damage and ship loss.

  • Real-Time Information and Security Enhancement

Through the implementation of big data analytics in the maritime industry, shipping companies can acquire real-time information by RFID tags and GPS, which assists in locating lost ships, damaged containers, or any issue related to the shipment. This will then increase the security and safety of vessels at sea. Through effective communication and big data, vessel operations can be synchronised for reaching harbours. Ships may even be rerouted in case of an emergency or non-availability of the port, and this can help lessen logistics space since everything can be scheduled.

  • Enhancing Productivity and Efficiency of Ports

Aside from improving vessel operations, the use of big data analytics in the maritime industry can also help optimise the productivity and operational efficiency of ports. By utilising data-driven algorithms and models, ports can enhance the way they plan, schedule, and coordinate their activities, such as berthing, unloading, loading, stacking, and transhipment. They may also track and manage resources like energy and equipment more effectively and minimise downtime and waste.

For instance, ports can utilise predictive analytics to forecast capacity and demand, lessen vessel turnaround time, and optimise crane assignment and berth allocation. Prescriptive analytics may also be used to recommend optimal solutions like routing and prioritisation and adjust them in real time according to changing scenarios. The application of big data in maritime ports has already begun in some countries like China through the Qianwan container terminal at the Qingdao port. This automated terminal started operating with a productivity per crane (PPC) of 26 containers an hour, but after adopting big data, such figure has now increased to over 35.


There are numerous key uses of big data in the maritime industry. In essence, big data can be used to manage ship sensors and enable predictive and prescriptive analyses, which are necessary for preventing ship delays and enhancing the overall operational efficiency of the industry. In shipping, big data can facilitate proper cargo tracking, which is essential for ensuring the safety and confidentiality of shipments.

Moreover, big data presents significant potential for improving the operational efficiency of ports by providing real-time information that aids in resource management and streamlining port activities. These advancements clearly indicate that the use of big data in the maritime industry is on the verge of substantial expansion, especially as the global community further embraces the digital era.

About Maritime Fairtrade

Maritime Fairtrade is an independent digital news platform dedicated to delivering the latest updates on the Asian maritime trade to the public. Our commitment lies in providing comprehensive coverage of regulatory changes and insightful analysis of emerging trends within the shipping sector.

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