The importance of maritime sector in socio-economic and development of any nation is very crucial. According to figures from the World Trade Organization (WTO) seaports currently represent one of the most important logistics centers due to the fact that more than 80% of worldwide freight is transported using this method. Therefore, if maritime is well harnessed and the ports are efficient, it will remain crucial to non-oil revenue generation and the most cardinal factor for growth and economic development in the country. However, a recent review of the situation at the Nigerian ports indicate that the state of many of the infrastructure particularly the roads are in state of despair.
This huge problem is currently having tremendous negative impact on the operational performance and efficiency at the ports. Furthermore, government and port users, especially business owners, continue to lose revenue to these ports’ inefficiencies. More so the inefficiencies at the ports continue to have negative impact on the port users and the surrounding areas. In fact, on the part of the government, the Organised Private Sector (OPS), recently admitted that the perennial gridlock in the Apapa ports and its environs in Lagos State was making the federal government lose nothing less than N6 trillion annually across all sectors of the economy. To corroborate this assertion, Mr. Aliko Dangote, the richest man in Africa, once said that not less than N20 billion was being lost daily to the deplorable state of the Apapa ports road in Lagos State, alone.
Therefore, to change this troubling narrative, appropriate policy framework, regulations and huge investment in infrastructure is required, to transform the ports into catalytic hubs for revenue generation and industrial growth. For the ports in Nigeria, particularly the Apapa ports to work efficiently, technological innovation is important to fuel the success of the port operations.
With the current realities and disruptions, occasioned by the advent of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it is apparent that the new normal has provided virtual experience which is also inevitable in the maritime value chain and in business operations to remain competitive, profitable and to continue sustainability. Therefore, it is significant to state that becoming “smart” means becoming more attractive and competitive.
As an import dependent nation, if port operations are supported with technological application, it will reflect in the revenue generated at the ports, which will be contributory to economic growth and also improve well-being of the populace. Because all associated cost with imports and exports will be reduced drastically, which in turn will affect the price of goods and services across the country. Agreeably, Nigeria government and regulators need substantial improvement and infrastructure investments to leverage on the benefits and gains of the maritime sector.
It’s important to note that the one key infrastructure that can make a huge difference is this technological application through the use of technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), big data, Internet of Things (IoT), autonomous drones, sensors, real-time tracking of cargo , camera systems and smart lights at port access roads to monitor traffic movements, all these and more can be used to improve performance, and make our ports smart.
Therefore, investing in technology is crucial in the current landscape to improve on the traditional brick and mortar practices and also to improve on the perennial challenges such as the port congestions. Technology can be the new development path to make the desired change in the maritime sector. Currently, a port without technology and intelligence regarding the market and its players, more so without a defined and anticipated strategy, cannot survive the intensity of international competition. However, with technology, monitoring, oversight functions can be made easy. Because data management will be used to make the best decisions, improve processes, and make them more efficient. Therefore, with technological applications the maritime industry can achieve more with less effort and resources. Therefore, to simply put, smart port is a port that consider technology, automation and innovative technologies as presented above.
The adoption and advancements in technology will make it possible to work towards a smart ecosystem in the country. The smart port concept entails the use of technologies to transform the different public services at ports into interactive systems. And what is the real purpose? To meet the needs of port users with a greater level efficiency, transparency, and value.
A well-built digital infrastructure can help ports optimize their physical infrastructure as well as predict and prepare for future investment and maintenance needs. From findings, automated ports are usually safer than the conventional ones. This is because as technology develops, and ports become smart, the use of innovative technology will then improve the business improvement, take care of the perennial traffic jam on the high ways, reduce turnaround time, improve service levels and encourage more efficient usage of resources.
Meaningfully, some of the key drivers to becoming a smart port is to improve the throughput of all types of cargo and to reduce use of scarce resources. It will increase efficiency, expedite the movement, clearance, and release of goods in the ports; it will assist in overcoming concurrent challenges, and inefficient customs controls. In addition, it will improve security, the quality of stakeholder and port user experience and in the remote monitoring platform of information, better document management will also be guaranteed.
Significantly, technology adoption and full digitalization will revolutionize the maritime sector and also transform the ports. More importantly, we are likely to have a decrease in the number of haulage accidents per year with the implementation. An increased commercial return is not in doubt because real-time data flow and seamless activities will be guaranteed both physically and remotely at the ports.
On a positive note, cue can be taken from many leading countries with smart ports and digitalized maritime sectors. In particular, Spain and Finland where innovative solutions lead to even smarter ports- such as Seville port in Spain, port of Hanko and port of Helsinki in Finland, which is the busiest passenger port in Europe. In 2019, a total of 12.2 million passengers travelled through the Port of Helsinki, which is also Finland’s leading general port for foreign trade. Other “smart” ports (already developed or underway) are located in Rotterdam (the Netherlands), Hamburg (Germany), Singapore (which has earned the nickname “connected port”), Shenzhen and Shanghai ports in China, and those located in Los Angeles and San Diego (the USA), to name a few.
In conclusion, a smart port should not be considered a mere application of digital technology. The intelligence of a port is also based on its ability to develop a collaborative approach. Therefore, finding the right partner to assist with technical management is key and can make a world of a difference. Port authority and regulators might not have all the necessary means to develop technological innovation, by themselves. The cruciality is that there is need to create enabling ecosystems, where the importance of the government, stakeholders, researchers, industries, users, lawmakers, and international agencies will be recognized in the transformation in the innovative process. Smart port is the future and is already here, therefore we must align in order to move forward with the time. Good luck!