How Singapore uses AI for faster shipping

Oleh Sean Nolan

Interview with Koh Chin Yong, Chief Information Officer, Maritime and Port Authority, Singapore.

In every passing minute, 250 babies are born, the world experiences four earthquakes and Singapore’s port handles over 1,000 tonnes of cargo. Enterprise Singapore describes the country as a “premier global hub port”.

How does Singapore maintain this reputation and efficiency? Tech tools like AI are analysing data from the ships, the port and various other agencies to ensure that ships can arrive and depart on time.

Koh Chin Yong, Chief Information Officer of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), shares more the initiatives to make the country’s port more efficient and convenient. He discusses how this benefits the environment and the authority’s work on data sharing.

AI-enhanced docking

MPA is trialling a new system to help ensure that ships depart from and arrive at Singapore’s port on time. The authority uses AI to provide recommendations for the most efficient distribution of anchorage spaces where ships can be docked, Koh highlights.

The algorithm assesses data such as the available spaces and the purpose of the ship’s travel to make these suggestions. It aims to shorten the amount of time that ships are anchored at sea or docked, boosting the port’s productivity.

This also cuts the carbon footprint of these ships, as they no longer “speed up and then end up having to wait”, Koh explains. This reduces the amount of time when ships idle and produce carbon emissions unnecessarily.

This system also allows for easier data sharing between the port, ships and relevant services like refuelling teams. This data sharing helps ensure that service can be delivered as soon as a ship docks, enabling a faster turnaround time.

This is the second phase of the digitalPORT@SG programme, which looks to digitalise the ship arrival and departure process. The programme was first launched in 2019 with a one-stop portal where vessels can submit ship, health and immigration documents when entering Singapore.

The information collected by this portal is shared with MPA, the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority and the National Environment Agency.

This simplified the clearance process as previously ships had to submit 16 different forms on various government platforms. The portal can now automatically pre-fill data in clearance forms, saving shipping companies over 100,000 man-hours every year, Koh shares.

Maritime data hub

MPA has rolled out a hub of maritime data including areas such as animal habitat and biodiversity records, mapping of the ocean floor, and information about Singapore’s coasts. The hub can provide information in the form of 2D and 3D images, Koh shares.

This data can then be used in public sector projects relating to Singapore’s waters. For example this information can help ships accurately navigate the country’s waters, improving maritime safety, he highlights.

This GeoSpace-Sea data hub contains information regarding Singapore’s coastlines, which can help tackle future challenges like climate change. Marine science research and disaster response are also potential uses for this system, according to Dr Lam Pin Min, the former Senior Minister of State for Transport and Health.

The data is currently only accessible to government agencies, but there are plans to extend it to academia, research institutions, and industries in the future, he highlights.

Data and future priorities

MPA regularly shares data with other government agencies such as the National Environment Agency and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority. The organisation uses government-provided data exchange tools to share information with these agencies, Koh explains.

These tools are found in a central platform which helps government agencies to securely transfer data between one another. The platform provides a catalogue of pre-made tools, reducing the number of data “silos and the duplication of efforts”, the government developer website explains.

In terms of keeping this data secure, MPA’s data sharing technology and computer systems are assessed by Singapore’s Cyber Security Agency and GovTech, Koh highlights.

The authority created a centre for maritime cybersecurity in 2019 to look out for potential cyber threats across marine information systems. It helps the authority detect threats early and respond to attacks quickly, David Foo, now MPA’s Assistant Chief Executive (Ops-Tech), told GovInsider.

Looking to the future, Koh outlined an exciting development in the MPA’s tech. The authority is working towards the launch of the entirely automated Next Generation Tuas Port, when it is fully completed in 2040, he highlights.

This port will use autonomous and electric vehicles, making “transport greener with a lower carbon footprint”, he adds. It will also use cameras and laser sensors to allow port staff to remotely monitor multiple cranes at once, wrote The Straits Times.

As a tiny island nation, Singapore’s economy depends heavily on maritime trade. MPA is using technology to support this industry, improving the convenience of its processes while helping to mitigate climate change.

This article has been amended for greater accuracy.