The shipping industry has long operated under a “Sail Fast Then Wait” (SFTW) model. Where ships are incentivised to reach ports as quickly as possible, only to end up idling outside congested ports for days waiting for a berth. This antiquated system could be more efficient from an economic and environmental perspective. With growing pressures to decarbonise global trade, the industry is exploring innovative ways to better synchronise port arrivals through enhanced communication and collaboration.
At the core of SFTW is the first-come, first-served queuing system that governs most ports worldwide. Shipping contracts traditionally obligate captains to make the best possible speed so cargo reaches its destination quickly. But congestion is inevitable, with dozens of ships converging on major hubs daily. While waiting to berth, idling ships burn fuel and emit greenhouse gases needlessly. Industry estimates indicate ships spend over 8% of voyage time waiting at anchorage. With 90% of world trade transported by sea, the collective impacts are massive.
Proposed solutions like virtual arrival and just-in-time (JIT) berthing aim to eliminate SFTW through better coordination. Virtual arrival allows ships to transmit a notice of readiness while still at sea after slowing to match berth availability. However, this bilateral arrangement between owners and charterers leaves cargo owners without the assurances provided by a traditional in-port notice. JIT berthing is too complex, needing to synchronise pilots, tugs, agents, stevedores and more.
A new approach called the Blue Visby Solution offers a systemic fix that works within existing contractual frameworks. Blue Visby utilises optimisation algorithms to assign optimal speed reductions to inbound ships headed for a common port. Critically, it maintains the first-come, first-served queue and shares fuel savings benefits between charterers, owners and cargo interests.
To bind these independent actors contractually, Blue Visby establishes a multilateral Blue Visby Mutual Association. This creates a framework for cooperation similar to protection and indemnity clubs in shipping. The association governs participation, enforces rules, and ensures equitable benefit sharing per voyage. Maritime lawyer Haris Zografakis explains that Blue Visby overcomes split incentive barriers by giving stakeholders “skin in the game”. The beauty of this solution is its horizontal, contractual nature. It requires no regulators or policies, just willing participants. Extensive modelling by the Blue Visby consortium indicates the approach can reduce shipping emissions by 16% globally if widely adopted.
Blue Visby focuses on optimising the sea leg of voyages, presenting ports with a smoother flow of incoming ships. The simplicity and commercial logic underpinning the solution means it can be implemented swiftly. With COP27 underscoring the need for urgent climate action across industries, innovative solutions like Blue Visby that work with, not against, the complexities of global shipping, hold great promise. The industry appears hungry for a better model.
While operationalising cooperation among fiercely competitive firms is never straightforward, the scale of the climate crisis demands bold thinking. Blue Visby’s system of mutually aligned incentives and self-governance through contracting seems suited to an industry defined by fluidity and decentralisation. Sometimes, the most enduring solutions come not from top-down mandates but bottom-up, led by those immersed in complex realities on the front lines. The stars could be aligning for real change on the high seas.
For a more in depth understanding of the topics covered in this article, refer to our latest report titled ‘Common Interest; How the maritime industry can share data, collaborate with trust, and build a mutually beneficial digital ecosystem.’ This comprehensive guide benchmarks shipping’s progress on using digital solutions to collaborate on decarbonisation goals and shows how industry frontrunners are breaking down the technical, legal, financial and cultural barriers.