4 minute read 11 Feb 2020
Smart shipping

How EY is shaping the future of navigation with Smart Shipping


Tom Van Herzele

EY Belgium Advisory Senior Manager

I have an engineering background combined with strong insights in business strategy and performance improvement supported by innovation and disruption.

4 minute read 11 Feb 2020

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With Smart Shipping, EY and De Vlaamse Waterweg nv are paving the way for smart inland vessels and a smart waterway network.

Commercialising smart inland vessels on a large scale. It might sound like a distant dream, but with the Smart Shipping programme, EY and De Vlaamse Waterweg nv, which manages and develops Flanders’ waterways, are laying the foundations that will eventually make it possible. The programme contributes to the creation of a reliable, safe, efficient and smart waterway network.


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Smart vessels are ships that use automated on-board systems and external data to optimise key functions. Remote navigation, for example, or management of fuel consumption.

To give smart inland vessels the best chance on our waterways, some critical questions first need to be addressed.

  • What adjustments must be made to the regulatory framework to make autonomous vessels possible?
  • What investments are needed in the waterway infrastructure to allow smart vessels to use them safely? And how can the new, smarter waterway infrastructure share the necessary data with smart vessels?

Adapted regulatory framework

EY supported an examination of the current European regulatory framework and mapping of the possible opportunities and challenges. In doing so, EY also studied the vision of the Central Commission for Navigation of the Rhine, which is responsible for legislation in the Rhine States. The commission divides smart vessels into categories. EY believes these categories are not extensive enough and its experts therefore worked on a new proposition. This new proposition includes more categories that take into account different intermediate phases. The aim is to adapt this proposition to the whole Rijnvaart, so that requests for trials can be clearly classified and the necessary safety regulations can be defined.

In the new proposition, EY makes a distinction between two separate phases in inland navigation. This is unlike road traffic, where the focus is on autonomous vehicles without any form of human direction. In the context of road traffic, however, working with intermediate phases, whereby for instance a person controls the car remotely or the driver must intervene only in dangerous situations, offers too few advantages. It leads to dangerous situations, such as accidents caused by inattentive drivers. In inland navigation, intermediate phases are possible, because the human reaction time is of other importance. What’s more, a remotely controlled ship creates enormous cost savings and improved work conditions. These intermediate phases require adjustments to the present legal framework, however, and can only be introduced if the current tests show that safety is guaranteed.

Smart waterway infrastructure for tomorrow’s shipping

EY has mapped the current operational services for waterway users to investigate the possible impact of smart sailing. In this context, consideration should be given to possible requirements of the waterway infrastructure to share smart data between ship and shore, but also between ships themselves, so that a safe, navigable waterway is guaranteed. Close contact between De Vlaamse Waterweg nv and the sector is maintained to ensure correct translation of their needs.

Focus on innovation and knowledge sharing

EY and De Vlaamse Waterweg nv are working closely with other government agencies to share knowledge and strengthen each other’s position. In addition, innovative players in the ports and shipping sector now have an environment in which they can test and develop their own technology. Furthermore, traditional members of the sector are engaged, allowing them to prepare as much as possible for the possibilities and the challenges of smart inland shipping.

Finally, EY closely monitors international trends in the maritime and automotive sectors. EY experts follow the insights of various structural partnerships, such as those of PIANC WG210, a work group of the World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure, which focuses specifically on smart shipping and inland waterways.

The power of smart shipping

Smart vessels in combination with smart waterway infrastructure have the potential to strengthen the competitiveness of the inland shipping sector in the coming years. An intense collaboration within the sector on national and international levels is therefore crucial. Automated sailing makes inland shipping more attractive for the labour market. Above all, smart shipping offers a solution to the growing mobility problems and increasing cost of road transport. In short, smart vessels are an integral part of a multimodal transport landscape that is better for people, the environment and society.

Multidisciplinary expertise for complex challenges

The multidisciplinary Performance Improvement team of EY applies their expertise to help clients solve their most complex problems. Growth creation, cost management and efficiency, proposing appropriate measures to react to market pressures and regulation, or operational questions: these are all challenges we help our clients to face. We therefore focus on innovation and employ our in-depth functional expertise in the fields of finance, supply chain and operations.

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The Smart Shipping program lays the foundations for the waterway network of the future and will make smart inland shipping on a large scale possible in the long term. This will undoubtedly increase the sector’s competitiveness and provide a solution to challenges relating to mobility and road transport. Smart inland shipping offers a promising future perspective for a sustainable society.

About this article


Tom Van Herzele

EY Belgium Advisory Senior Manager

I have an engineering background combined with strong insights in business strategy and performance improvement supported by innovation and disruption.