(AP Photo/File)
Durban - Five of the biggest container shipping companies are in discussions to establish a container shipping association that will pave the way for digitisation, standardisation and interoperability within the container shipping industry.

According to a statement issued by the five, IT specialists from within the individual companies are discussing the creation of common information technology standards which shall be openly available and free of charge for all stakeholders of the wider container shipping industry.

Spokesman for the group is MSC’s Global Chief Information Officer André Simha, who says it is in the best interests of customers and all stakeholders if container shipping companies operate with a common set of information technology standards.

“We are striving for less red tape and better transparency. The timing is right, as emerging technologies create new customer-friendly opportunities. Together, we gain traction in delivering technological breakthroughs and services to our customers compared to working in our own closed silos,” he said.

The container shipping industry is closely watched by competition tribunals across the world and any talk of collaborating among each other has to be carefully explained and justified. A rejection by just one of those bodies means that the affected shipping line or lines will not be allowed to trade freely within that region or country.

Nevertheless, most of the big lines have reached agreements that allow them to share services - for example Maersk and MSC, the two biggest container carriers, share the busy Far East-North Europe service by, among other things, taking slots on each other’s ships. The third biggest company, CMA CGM, was also going to take part in this arrangement but was refused by several of the international watchdogs on the grounds that this would create too big a monopoly. Instead the French company had to go off and form an association with another shipping line.

Hence the new proposed association is going to have to tread carefully through a minefield of rules and regulations, but they stress that the association will be open to anyone and will remain neutral and a non-profit body for ocean carriers seeking benefits for the industry and its stakeholders.

The intention is not to develop or operate any digital platform, but to ensure inter-operability through standardisation.

The Mercury