Digitalisation and technological innovation are key to the development of the European maritime industry. Digital services for communicating data and information are essential to ensure safer and more sustainable navigation in European waters
During the EU Macro-Regional Strategies Week 2022, representatives of European and national institutions, civil society, representatives of the private sector and academia, as well as individual citizens, were able to participate in a series of interactive conferences designed around three main themes: youth empowerment, social innovation and sustainable development.
As part of this year's programme, the stakeholder session 'Maritime digitalisation - helping the transport chain to become greener, safer and more efficient' was focused on the importance of digitalisation and data sharing for the development of a sustainable and efficient maritime industry and safer transport.
Better connectivity and safer, more sustainable transport
"Sharing data and information on maritime traffic and activity is essential not only to foster connectivity between regions, but also to ensure safer navigation in European waters," said Lazaros Aichmalotidis of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) at the opening of the session. "Immediate communication of information on the position or movements of vessels, possible accidents or dangers at sea is a real life-saving tool. Failure to share data, especially on sea routes, is very dangerous and over the years it has led to many accidents that could have been avoided," confirmed Ulf Siwe from the Swedish Maritime Administration and co-coordinator of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea (EUSBSR).
The European Maritime Safety Agency plays a central role in coordinating maritime activity: not only does it collect data at European level, but it also facilitates coordination between European countries by making its databases available to all national maritime authorities.
As Mr Aichmalotidis pointed out, "EMSA's main objective is not only to transform the data collected into useful information, but also and above all to find innovative solutions capable of managing and communicating this information". The Safe Sea Net project managed by EMSA was created as a central monitoring system for EU vessel traffic that can provide immediate information on vessels movements to public authorities in all countries in order to increase safety and efficiency in navigation.
Coordination between European macro-regions
The maritime industry is a common sector where two macro-regional strategies such as EUSBSR and EUSAIR can exchange and share good practices: "despite the specificities of each country, the needs related to maritime transport are similar between regions, so it is important to work together to develop modern services and harmonise procedures both at European and international level," explained Aichmalotidis.
The EUREKA project, coordinated by the Croatian Ministry of Sea, Transport and Infrastructure and involving maritime authorities from all countries in the Adriatic-Ionian macro-region, including the Italian Coast Guard, is an example of good practice at macro-regional level.
To consolidate the functioning of maritime services in the macro-region, "thanks to this project, a permanent transnational network for maritime safety will be created, which will bring together experts from each country and will continue to work even after the project ends in 2023", explained Toni Maričević from the Croatian Ministry of Sea, Transport and Infrastructure.
Moreover, since the project also involves actors from non-EU countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro), "this fosters the exchange of digital know-how and skills between member countries and candidate or potential candidate countries, thus contributing to improving their management capacity and transparency of public administration," Maričević added.
What will the future look like?
The development of autonomous ships capable of sailing without a crew represents the future of European maritime transport. According to Minsu Jeon of the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities (IALA), MASS (Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships) are "the vanguard of the maritime industry. Developed on the model of autonomous cars using artificial intelligence technology, they will ensure maximum transport safety and make shipping smoother and more environmentally sustainable."
While it is true that unmanned ships are developing faster and faster, it will take several years before they become fully operational in European waters: "especially in busy areas, we need to develop more modern technology, infrastructure and a more accurate data collection system. It is likely that we will have to wait at least another 20 years before we see autonomous ships sailing our seas," Jeon concluded.
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