The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Strategic plan of 2018-2023 was one of the first steps taken by the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) to adapt to the advancement of technology in the Shipping sector. The strategic plan demonstrated the need to include and integrate the advancing technology within the Regulatory Framework. This included finding ways to balance the safety and security concerns of the parties and the advancing technology, mitigation of cost and environmental damages, etc. The advancing technology brought into the picture two alternatives for the shipping industry, i.e., Smart Ships and Digital Twins. Although both these alternatives may sound synonymous, in reality, they differ. Every shipping company must understand the difference to make the best choice possible for meeting its business needs.


Fuel consumption, energy efficiency, and carbon emissions are three of the most debated concerns in the shipping industry. These three problems are addressed once Smart Ships are brought into the picture. The Commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies being used in the ship, when coupled with the available Internet of Things (IoT) and Information and Communication Technology (ICT), brings to life a cloud-based monitoring system, which analyses the performance of the vessel and addresses the issue of optimization of fuel consumption levels, energy efficiency, and control or limits of the CO2 emissions for the entire life of the vessel.

The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) allows faster data processing methods, thereby avoiding human errors/accidents and helping in achieving greater autonomy. Stena Lines, a European Enterprise dealing with exports, was able to reduce crew and passenger accidents, improve fuel efficiency, and reduce the use of plastic on board with the help of AI and ML-based calculations.

The use of AI-based sensors onboard the vessel will allow tracking of the cargo throughout the journey via AI-based apps. This allows the evaluation of real-time data by all the parties involved in shipping the cargo. Other forms of real-time data might include information about vessel position, vessel speed, fuel and emission reports, wind speed, etc.; the huge volume of data being collected will also help determine future shipping operation and processing needs.

Other advantages include efficient reduction in vessel turnaround time, i.e., once ports receive data regarding vessel position and movement, AI can further analyze the time of arrival and departure. This not only helps the incoming vessel but also allows the port to efficiently manage and guide other vessels as well, thereby reducing the overall time for which a vessel stays at the port. `Remote sensing technology has simplified the means of off-shore management of vessels. With the ability to constantly monitor the operational efficiency of both old and new vessels, the incorporation of Smart Ships would enable IMO to achieve its Greenhouse Gas (GHG) strategy, which aims to reduce carbon emissions in the shipping industry by 40% by 2030.


As the words suggest, a digital twin is the digital representation of a physical entity, i.e., the digital representation of the vessel and its machinery. It is a virtual environment wherein all the data and simulations that would have occurred during the vessel’s lifespan can be studied and analyzed in real-time. The technology allows analysis of billions of possible outcomes, design systems, fuel management techniques, simulator-based testing, virtual system integration, etc. It helps the shipping company analyze the best possible solution for efficient vessel management. This technology is not limited to providing real-time analysis and future forecasts regarding the vessel.

Shipping companies provide a wide range of services, and to have the upper hand, and it is important to understand the market trend and move accordingly. The Digital Twin analyzes past and present trade patterns and market transactions to provide future scenarios/possibilities, thereby aiding better operational and strategic decision-making. It also helps in strategic planning at ports. A Digital Twin model incorporates past and present port data and provides suggestive improvements in port design, its capacity, etc. It predicts an increase or decrease in future arrivals in the port, allowing the port managers to run simulations and identify necessary steps to accommodate the vessel efficiently. Connected Digital Twins enables all stakeholders to view and analyze the vessel during the voyage. Tests w.r.t future risks, structural reliability, etc. help the stakeholders to improve efficiency during the voyage by making suitable changes.

Apart from this, Digital Twins can also be used to deal with cyber-security threats. With the advancement of technology and smart ships using several IoT and AI-based tools, a huge amount of data is now available over the web and could be remotely accessed if proper measures are not taken for its protection. Creating a Digital Twin helps with supervision, maintenance, and control over such data. It analyses the data network over the web and provides strategic inputs to both external and internal cyber-security threats. It predicts real-time and future threats, thereby aiding in the identification of such threats at the early stages and elimination of the same, with minimum damage. It helps create simulations where various cyber threats could be analyzed and tested with practical solutions, thereby increasing preparedness for realtime cyber threats.