“Simply put, blockchain is a technology that makes it possible to link information in a forgery-proof manner,” explains Jork Feeken, eCommerce Manager at Hamburg Süd. The best-known example so far is probably the digital currency bitcoin. It is based on a decentralized database – i.e., one spread out on several computers, with verification mechanisms – the blockchain.
However, bitcoin is only one of many possible applications. In principle, blockchain technology is suitable for all kinds of transactions that a large number of participants who do not know each other personally want to process in a secure and reliable manner. In the maritime industry, for example, this could include not only track & trace, but also, for example, the bookings, the bills of lading, and the certificates of origin.
More transparency and efficiency
Today, a single international container transport often involves up to 30 people and institutions with up to 200 interactions and a lot of paperwork – from the shipping company to the ports and terminals, the freight forwarders and shippers, through to administrators and customs. “Blockchain allows these processes to become paperless – and therefore more efficient, less error-prone, more secure and faster,” Feeken explains. “Transactions become more transparent and forgeries impossible.”
One good example is the shipping of limes. With the help of blockchain technology, a cargo-specific digital catalog is created for all participants at various validated and digital locations, where this information is stored and can be accessed around the clock. In this way, in addition to knowing which plantation the limes come from and when they were packed in the container, the importer also has access to the correct export regulations. What’s more, he can access data related to the loading, transhipment and unloading of the container as well as when customs clearance takes place. One major advantage of this is that not every participant in the supply chain has to exchange documents several times with each of the individual contractual partners anymore, as this is taken care of by distributed databases.
Promising pilot projects
In 2017 already, Hamburg Süd operations in Australia, DP World Australia and DB Schenker jointly participated in a blockchain pilot project. This involved the supply chain of wine along the 8,100-kilometer stretch from the Coonawarra wine region in South Australia to the eastern Chinese port of Qingdao. With the help of blockchain, the project team was able to digitally verify that there hadn’t been any counterfeiting at any of that transfer points, and that the Australian wine had actually been delivered to China. Since early 2018, Maersk and IBM have also been working together to jointly develop a blockchain-based open commercial platform called TradeLens. Hamburg Süd is also involved in this project and is currently implementing the track & trace integration. Hamburg Süd will then begin planning the next TradeLens integrations, which will reportedly involve the linking of blockchain-based documentation processes.
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