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Blockchain—The New Shipping Buzz Phrase


Blockchain, the new shipping buzz phrase (iStock)

If ‘Big Data’ was the 2017 shipping buzz phrase, it’s evolved into ‘Blockchain’ in 2018. But just as the maritime industry wrestled with the Big Data concept, so too with Blockchain in terms of what it can and can’t do, and whether, and how, it should be used.


The Blockchain debate took a decisive step forward with the recent funding partnership for Maritime Blockchain Labs (MBL) between Lloyd’s Register Foundation (LRF) and Blockchain Labs for Open Collaboration (BLOC). Founded by BLOC, MBL is the result of a feasibility study sponsored by the Danish Maritime Fund examining the need for collaboration amongst maritime Blockchain practitioners.

LRF will fund BLOC to conduct three demonstrator projects over the next 18 months and build a collaborative network to explore Blockchain’s application. MBL will focus on the assurance and safety of critical infrastructure and drive new business models for the global maritime industry where trusted distributed systems can lead to breakthrough solutions. BLOC’s mission includes sharing knowledge and best practices, building stakeholder capacity, and research & development that defines problems and shapes solutions.

BLOC key members (Courtesy of Lloyd’s Register Foundation)

NauticExpo e-magazine asked BLOC CEO Deanna MacDonald to explain further: “Blockchain creates an immutable record of transactions,” she stated. “If a transaction happens, then everyone on the chain can be informed. This record can’t be changed and isn’t stored or controlled by a single actor. In shipping, it only works if it’s open and accessible to everyone.”

“When you think about the number of transactions and middle people in shipping, you can see why Blockchain is such appealing technology,” MacDonald noted. “It has the potential to cut out intermediaries and create a shared, trusted store of information. According to the New York Times, the cost of paperwork involved in shipping a container across the world is almost as much as the cost of moving the container itself.”

A study by IBM and Maersk backs this and also shows how a Blockchain cross-border supply solution can simplify it. MacDonald continued: “If data is stored on a global, or an interoperable system, there is immense potential to slash supply chain bureaucracy, as well as increasing transparency and tackling corruption.”

How Blockchain Should be Used

“LRF’s and the Alan Turing Institute’s recent ‘Insight Report on Distributed Ledger Technologies’ concludes that distributed ledger and Blockchain technologies have a wide range of potential applications,” MacDonald said. “Examples at various stages of development include tracking food products through a supply chain to provide verification of their provenance. Such examples also demonstrate the technology’s scalability.”

“Blockchain has the potential to cut out intermediaries and create a shared, trusted store of information.”

“Blockchain isn’t a panacea, however. It’s as important to understand the technology’s limits as much as its strengths. If you don’t need a shared, consistent store of data, for example, you don’t need a Blockchain solution. If you don’t need a tamper-evident record of all changes made to the data, you don’t need a Blockchain—a traditional database might be a better solution.”

“Blockchain will only succeed in improving commerce streams if the industry collaborates and shares knowledge. Given the inherently collaborative nature of the technology, there is no point in ending up with 20 competing Blockchain applications. This is why, when BLOC teamed up with LRF, we were very clear that this was a means of giving us a mandate to drive technology in the industry,” MacDonald concludes.

“Our objectives are twofold: to get real-world applications on the ground as soon as possible, and to share knowledge and methodologies among users. We are on a mission to make sure that the digital infrastructure we build is going to be open and accessible to everyone.”


About the Author

Formerly editor-in-chief of IHS Maritime, Tony Slinn is an independent maritime journalist.

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