Voyage optimisation key to unlocking safety, emissions reduction and cost benefits

by 18, Apr, 2021Innovation, Maritime 4.00 comments

There is no question on whether the shipping industry needs to implement ambitious change to meet impending environmental regulation. This is a certainty. The main question is instead around the ‘how’. With a large portion of the global fleet set to be in operation for years to come, how will one of the world’s biggest transport sectors economically decarbonise operations, while retaining competitivity and upholding rigorous safety standards? Kimmo Laaksonen, director, product development, NAPA Shipping Solutions explains more.

The case for voyage optimisation

Kimmo Laaksonen, director, product development, NAPA Shipping Solutions

Despite its significant potential voyage optimisation is currently underutilised. The majority of vessels stick to a default route, except in extreme weather conditions, thus meaning benefits of optimised routeing are not actualised. While some climatology-based reference routes already exist and could be applied, weather phenomena are so different year-to-year that voyage specific optimisation is required to reflect real-life conditions. This is especially important with the impacts of climate change causing weather conditions to be increasingly volatile and unpredictable.

To showcase the value of voyage optimisation, we combined NAPA voyage planning technology with historical data to retro-optimise past voyages and highlight the missed opportunity for increased safety and emissions savings.

We took over a year of past transatlantic voyage data for mid-range tankers on the Baltic Exchange route, with the aim of analysing how they performed versus how they could have performed if they had used weather routing. By comparing sailed voyages against the alternative optimised voyage, we found that the MR tankers could have reduced the time spent in winds above BF4 by 9.8 per cent. This would have allowed a 5 per cent lower RPM and led to 15.9 per cent lower fuel costs. As the schedules in the retro-optimisation study were kept the same, the results highlight the significant environmental and economic value of smart voyage planning.  Similarly, as the time spent in conditions at BF5 and higher were greatly reduced, safety risks were also minimised.

Adoption is limited

Despite the emissions reduction and cost saving potential, the shipping industry is failing to adapt its infrastructure to accommodate and incentivise the uptake of technologies, such as voyage optimisation. This is further complicated by the traditionally strong separation between the voyage stakeholders. For example, ship owners and crew are primarily responsible for safety and have different tools onboard for voyage planning – ECDIS, and their own weather forecast sources delivered by email. However, there is currently not a huge motivation for shipowners to save fuel, as long as they can keep the ETA and ship performance (speed and fuel consumption) within charter party limits.

Although the charterer may be interested in fuel consumption, in most cases, they do not have the same access to sea charts, tools to evaluate safety, and are likely to source a weather routing service for the voyage, but not systematically for each voyage. Not only does this mean that incentives are misaligned, it makes updating and changing courses difficult for a number of reasons. This means that all parties are likely to stick to tried and tested routes, even if they are inefficient.

The current relationship between ship owner and charterer fails to incentivise voyage optimisation and results in sub-optimization. The lack of transparency and open collaboration between the stakeholders means the optimal route, schedule and speed profile is not reached, despite the optimised route offering benefits for all stakeholders; i.e. safety for the ship, crew and cargo, reduced fuel costs and emissions and less wear and tear for the vessel.

A greater need to optimise now

This dynamic is however likely to change. Increasing pressure to decarbonise from the IMO, cargo owners (such as signatories to Sea Cargo Charter) and banks (such as Poseidon Principles), will lead to optimisation becoming a more necessary option. For example, vessels that fail to reduce emissions may eventually have to reduce speed to comply with impending regulation, leading to potentially serious commercial impacts. Therefore, it has never been more important to bring all stakeholders together in pursuit of a solution.

Collaborative voyage planning will be critical to unlocking greater safety improvements and emissions savings potential and driving adoption. To make this a reality it’s essential that we are able to combine accurate weather information with details of an individual vessel. NAPA’s voyage optimisation software provides a vessel with access to up-to-date weather forecasts, and accurate estimates of speed and fuel consumption relating to the upcoming weather conditions. This prediction is intelligently calculated on the unique naval architectural and hydrodynamic modelling of a vessel, which are based on the same performance and safety models that underpin our design software.

A holistic approach

Likewise, hosting the software on a cloud-based network enables the data to be shared with all voyage planning stakeholders, further increasing transparency and better aligning incentives. By quickly simulating different voyage routes and showcasing the impact of speed and fuel consumption, impact of weather on the schedule and safety on the same platform, cloud-based systems are better able to give an accurate picture of the conditions at sea and realistic potential for voyages. This means that, for example, if a situation changes (because of weather, other unforeseen events etc.), the expense and work involved in generating and verifying a new voyage plan is reduced – and consequently all parties can rely on a more up to date plan. Additionally, Time-Charter-Equivalent optimisation supports decisions on whether to prioritise speed or fuel-consumption. Whatever the aim, simulating multiple voyages, which are adaptable and reactive to real life conditions enables huge benefits for all parties involved.

These computer aided solutions are not inaccessible and in fact are already supporting intelligent decision-making across our oceans, such as cost-benefit analyses of spending time in emissions control areas. By taking a holistic approach to voyage planning current voyage optimisation software is combining data, such as weather and ship modelling, to provide an optimised route for every vessel on each route. No one simulation is ever the same.

A continued need for R&D

While intelligent decision support for voyage planning is available, the continuation of research and development is critical if we are to access greater capabilities. At NAPA, we see significant value in collaborative research projects – the application of our knowledge, combined with other industry leaders, important to the evolution of the shipping industry.

In fact, we recently joined the VesselAI project; a three-year EU-funded research project aiming to unlock unexploited potential by developing, validating and demonstrating a unique framework for extreme-scale data and AI services for the maritime sector. The application of big data is a key component in unlocking untapped automatic voyage optimisation potential – providing weather and risk updates based on a wealth of real-life data and changing circumstance.

AI-based automatic voyage monitoring and extreme scale data processing would provide additional foresight into the upcoming risks as the weather forecast rapidly evolves. Also taking into consideration and combining massive amounts of data about sea charts, weather, and modelling of the vessel behaviour. This would enable more and better automated suggestions on altering the route plan to avoid risk for parametric rolling on a planned route.

The continuous development of an all-encompassing data driven solution, deployed across large fleets, and combining factors like weather, grounding risk, ship stability, fuel efficiency and cargo operations, would allow for greater holistic decision making. The model providing crew with a means to take action to mitigate the risk by reducing vulnerability in high-risk areas, whilst at the same time informing operation centres on a vessel’s real-time operations and subsequent risks.

No time like the present

It is fair for us to therefore conclude that while voyage optimisation software is readily available and effective in reducing costs, emissions and increasing fuel efficiency, uptake is still limited.  While impending environmental regulation, financial incentives and alignment of ship chartering activities will increase demand, collaboration and continued innovation will be vital to implementing computer-aided voyage planning solutions across the global fleet and utilising all available data. The opportunity is there – it is down to us to act now and realise its potential.