Maritime digitization: Covid-19 silver lining for Malaysia

The pandemic is hastening adoption of digital technology.

Digitization presents an opportunity as a way forward for the maritime industry in these challenging times.

By Rachael Philip, Malaysia correspondent, Maritime Fairtrade

Industrial Revolution (IR) 4.0 has been the norm for some time now but the uptake towards digitization has been slow. However, the Covid-19 pandemic is exposing gaps in an otherwise satisfactory system and may thereby hasten the fast-tracking of the adoption of digital technology. 

Malaysia is known for its internationally renowned ports, shipping lines and shipyards. A solid ecosystem of maritime stakeholders along the supply chain coupled with sound trade policies have helped the industry developed over the years.

However, the current pandemic and its impact has brought to light some areas for improvement, namely in the digital-enabled work environment. For one, the industry can be more pro-active in anticipating the impact of disruptions to the flow of goods and services along the supply chain. 

“The pandemic has shown that Malaysia is not using technologies to the fullest capacity to enhance efficiency and productivity, and to reduce cost,” said Nazery Khalid, maritime commentator, scholar and former analyst.

Nazery was speaking at the Fostering Maritime Industry Operation and Management through Digitization Post-Covid 19 conference (June 28 to July 2), organized by the Maritime Institute of Malaysia, which was attended by Maritime Fairtrade.

Nazery Khalid, maritime commentator, scholar and former analyst.

Smart ships

Smart ships are no longer a thing of the future. Ships today are outfitted with advanced features like artificial intelligence-enabled collision avoidance and optimum route planning systems.  They are connected to sophisticated onshore fleet management systems. Even remote and preventive maintenance are being carried out via the cloud platform to ensure year-round tip top performance and timely parts replacement.

“The maritime industry stakeholders must embrace and adopt digitization or risk being left behind by other industries in attracting investments,” said Nazery.

“Attracting investments is crucial to developing the hardware and software needed for digitization. The industry must also prepare the human capital able to operate within this new ecosystem and equally important too is to work towards changing the mindsets of stakeholders to adopt IR 4.0.”

Automating ports

An automated and digitized port can bring competitive advantage. It can also create high income jobs, reduce carbon footprint and make better decisions based on predictive analysis.

Nazery said: “Shipping companies are now able to send and receive data on their cargo in real-time. With the emergence of ships with e-navigation features such as electronic charts, ports should start investing in the facilities and expertise to handle such ships. 

“As ships become more environment friendly, in adherence with the 2020 sulphur emission limit imposed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and international conventions such as ballast water and green ship recycling, they are equipped with more technologically- and digitally-driven eco-friendly, fuel-efficient features and onboard systems. 

“These ships will require tech-savvy ports to serve them, hence making it crucial for port operators to invest in technology and digital systems and equipment to handle them.”

Multi-fold benefits

Further to this, an IR 4.0-ready maritime industry will trigger multiplier effects benefitting not only the shipping companies but also the environment and other stakeholders along the supply chain, such as cargo owners, logistics companies, marine ancillary services providers, regulators and eventually consumers.

“The subsectors in the maritime industry, namely shipping, port operations and shipbuilding, are warming up to IR 4.0. Some shipping companies are already using real-time information to send and receive data on cargos transported by their vessels. Autonomous, crewless ships are being tested and ships with e-navigation features such as electronic charts and technologically-driven environmentally-friendly and energy efficient characteristics are more the norm than the exception these days,” said Nazery.


Some of the challenges to the maritime industry posed by IR 4.0 are putting in place an ecosystem with solid regulatory framework, masterplan with clear objectives and incentives to foster and facilitate related activities.

Other challenges include attracting investments to boost hardware and software to create a conducive environment; developing the relevant human capital, recalibrating education, training and learning process to cater to market demands for skilled workers, enhancing awareness among industries of various aspects of IR 4.0 and its challenges and opportunities, and finally, changing mindsets of stakeholders to adopt to IR 4.0.

Nazery said that as IR 4.0 gains traction, new technologies, applications and solutions will become not only more pervasive but also affordable. 

“A wholistic solution is required when digitizing. Besides infrastructure and skilled human capital, supporting government policies, regulatory structure as well as standards and best practices are required for the industry to reap the full benefits of IR 4.0.”

MIMA aims to raise industry standards 

The Maritime Institute of Malaysia (MIMA) is a policy research institute that studies Malaysia’s interests at sea. MIMA assists government agencies by providing expertise in national maritime policy planning and implementation. 

Its research is conducted through five centers: Center for Ocean Law and Policy, Center for Maritime Security and Diplomacy, Center for Maritime Economics and Industries, Center for the Straits of Malacca and Center for Coastal and Marine Environment.

MIMA has been conducting the Malaysian Technical Cooperation Program (MTCP) training courses, which the Fostering Maritime Industry Operation and Management through Digitization Post-Covid 19 conference is part of, since 2010 in the areas of port and shipping, international trade, maritime law, principles of the shipping and trading industry, port development and administration, shipping traffic management and maritime non-traditional security. 

The program, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Malaysia, field industry experts on its panel of speakers, namely university professors, researchers and executives at port, shipping and logistics companies.

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