Export/Import Updates!
January 11, 2022

Container Tracking: Need of The Hour

Shipping lines, freight forwarders, importers, exporters, buyers, traders, banks and several other entities of maritime trade are suddenly in the dark in Chinese waters as a slew of data laws are hindering ships from relaying their locational data, impeding efforts to smoothen and streamline international trade at the crucial juncture of Christmas demand and recovering economies from the Coronavirus pandemic.

Inadequate container tracking in Chinese waters

At a time when global shipping lines are bracing themselves to cater to the Christmas demand and cash in on the recovering export and import operations of several countries from the Coronavirus pandemic, a few Chinese data laws are playing a spoilsport. Shipping lines are unable to track their vessels in Chinese waters, an international trade powerhouse, affecting their efforts to ease bottlenecks and smoothen ship traffic flow.

Information on cargo volumes is vital to optimize logistics, predict congestion at ports and container terminals, which will enable shipping lines to take a call on the best possible time and trade route. Marine Traffic, a leading ship tracking and maritime intelligence provider is suffering gaps in obtaining vessels location data from China, which is a littoral country of the South China Sea, through which an estimated $5 trillion worth trade passes.

According to Marine Traffic’s Automatic Identification System (AIS) team lead Anastassis Touros, the ship tracking company is not able to know when ships are departing and from which port in China. AIS is a modern-day technology which can pinpoint the location of most ships at a global scale, collecting continuous transmissions of location data, enabling the safe movement of ships and helping stakeholders in myriad ways for the smooth conduct of international trade, 90 percent of which passes through the high seas.

According to Vessels Value, a market intelligence provider for maritime markets, terrestrial shipping data across Chinese waters dropped by 90 percent between October 28 and November 15,blinding the efforts of not just shipping lines but also several other stakeholders such as importers, exporters, and freight forwarders. And to further comprehend the complexity, it is pertinent to realize that China is a major importer of crude oil, coal, iron ore and houses six of the world’s 10busiest ports, including being a massive shipping container manufacturer and exporter and is renowned as the manufacturing hub of the world.  

Already, Coronavirus pandemic has disrupted supply chains in this era of globalization while the new Chinese data laws have emerged as an added hiccup. Starting 1 November 2021, China’s Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL) kicked off, adding on to other stringent laws such as the Cybersecurity Law (CSL) and Data Security Law (DSL). PIPL aims to offer greater protection for personal information and emerged as China’s most important personal data protection law, which combining with CSL and DSL will form the legal triumvirate bedrock of overall data protection and cybersecurity regime in the second largest economy of the world.

However well-intentioned these laws maybe from the Chinese standpoint, over the years, they have stung deep-pocketed global corporate giants so much so that even Google exited China and have now emerged to haunt the shipping lines and international trade at large. Fortunately, the Indian government has not promulgated such type of rules to constrain maritime stakeholders but still tracking shipments is a very important aspect of international trade which continues to give jitters to all, especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Little progress on container tracking isn't enough

Many exporters and importers are clueless as to what is the current status of their shipment? Is the container on the truck, if it is on the truck, where is the truck? How many states did the export consignment cross in a day? How far is the container terminal? How much more time to reach the port? How to track containers from your warehouse till they reach your client?

Unlike telecom, electronics, computer hardware, banking, digital payments and other modern industries, shipping industry has a lot of catching up to do with respect to digitalization, achieving uniformity and standardization. It is easy for importers and exporters to track railways, airways, and goods carriers on land but that is not the case with all the containers on the high seas as many shipping lines are yet to digitalize their platforms.

Most existing shipping lines in the world are yet to embrace common identical protocols for container tracking, leading to data flow gaps, and indecisiveness across the whole supply chain. Even the few shipping lines which embraced digitalization do not have all the processes in uniformity. One shipping line may say vessel departed while another may say vessel on board for the same event, adding to existing confusion.  Similarly, every container traverses through many countries and continents from its home base, with so many data lags in its movement.

A case in point is the current chips shortage plaguing car manufacturers in India, which brings the importance of end-to-end container tracking to the fore as it offers visibility on the status of key supply chain for all stakeholders to better optimize their manufacturing strategy or make other suitable arrangements.

Identifying this lack of standardization in container tracking belatedly, a bunch of top shipping lines, MSC, Maersk, Hapag – Lloyd, ONE, Evergreen, Yang Ming, HMM and Zim, founded the Digital Container Shipping Association(DCSA) only in April 2019 to establish IT standards to power interoperability of technology solutions across the shipping landscape.

DCSA aims to facilitate digital interconnectivity and seamless data communication for all stakeholders to leverage, even as it develops standards in close collaboration with member shipping lines which will validate, align and agree to them for widespread adoption.

Creating digital standards for container shipping industry, DCSA is striving to shape its digital future, moving forward with openness, encouraging collaboration between stakeholders, bringing in initiatives such as industry blueprint, data and interfaces, Internet of Things (IoT), Just-in-Time Port Call, e-Documentation and cybersecurity among others to achieve faster time to market, reduce technology costs, and raise innovation of new products and services.

It is still a long way before the initiatives of two-year old DCSA are adopted by all the shipping lines to enable end-to-end tracking of each and every container and achieve 360 degree standardization. The shipping industry is yet to have its own Google kind of a database where a random container’s number can be entered to immediate find its global location. However, in India, NICDC Logistics Data Services (NLDS), a joint venture between the Government of India and Japans’ NEC has created one.

It is also a known fact that there no guarantee all the time that all the shipping containers booked by an exporter are stacked on the same shipping line as hedging is incorporated while booking space on shipping lines which leads containers to get scattered on different ocean carriers, further complicating their tracking. No wonder, digitalization and standardization of procedures and protocols could emerge as the next big thing to happen to the shipping industry after Malcolm McLean’s container innovation.

Learn how Cogoport solves this pressing issue and smoothens the process of tracking: Click here.

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Editorial Team
Editorial Team
Customer success manager
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Sara Smith
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