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Terminal News

The potential of big data & AI to enhance terminal utilisation

The potential of big data & AI to enhance terminal utilisation
Chye Poh Chua, founder of ShipsFocus, explains how big data and artificial intelligence was used at Singapore's port to reduce wait time and enhance storage terminal utilisation

The prospect has never been brighter for the tanker shipping and tank terminal industries in dealing with wait time and utilisation in ports.

The advent of big data, AI & Industry 4.0 technologies has given rise to new applications that help overcome many problems that those in the energy and chemical industry have learnt to live with.


Tanker arrivals at Singapore’s port make up the highest share among all cargo ship arrivals1 at 38%. Of these arrivals, 51% are for cargo operations at the more than 45 tank terminals and almost 200 jetties among them. Many

of them spend up to three days in port. Once in port, there are many intrinsic activities and events including getting to and staying at the terminal & berth until the ship departs from the port.

Wait time occurs in each of these various junctures until resources are appropriately allocated. This means that in Singapore port’s self organised ecosystem including the absence of a daily ‘port line-up’ these terminals and jetties work in silo without the visibility of resource readiness or availability beyond a disparately and bilaterally dependent communication.

Last but not least, due to the dynamic resource allocation problem along with other issues, many of the stakeholders rely on manual systems to conduct their operations. Even though many have kept records of their activities, their non-digitised data is often incomplete, erroneous, non-standardised, which limits meaningful usage of the data. Portview was developed to try and mitigate these problems.


Due to an absence of data from the stakeholders, Portview was based on ships’ AIS data2. Consequently, Portview was offered as an online tool that provides near-time and visualised clarity of ships and their arrivals in port, terminals and jetties in Singapore.

The aim for Portview is to be a data-driven, AI-enabled, decisionsupport coordination platform to facilitate tanker operations in port, to improve productivity and optimise efficiency. As a result, ShipsFocus entered into a collaboration with the Institute of High Performance Computing (an A*Star member) in 2018 to develop predictive and optimiser engines for this purpose.

Portview users now have near-time access ships’ data, their positions, wait-time at the anchorage, stay-time at the jetty, plus a slew of visualisations and interactive data and analytics of the performance of tank terminals.


As most of the stakeholders in the port network rely on analogue systems in their daily operations, concepts such as big data and AI, which are founded on a digital system, could be unfamiliar to them.

To move on to these applications, these stakeholders must digitise first. However, such change can be enormous for it is fundamentally a change of system that will involve several things. Portview is used as a ‘short-cut’ as a way to help these stakeholders digitise from 0 to 1. The platform shares suitable data and analytics with the relevant stakeholder.


For carriers and tank-terminals, a ship’s wait time and terminal utilisation are key concerns, even though most have come to accept these as norms. Portview can help them to identify systematically where the exact nodes on the chain that generate most wait times and why. Often, the stakeholders realise that they did not have sufficient data to explain intelligently the true causes of these wait times in spite of their regular occurrence.

In this process, stakeholders are proactively seeking digitisation solutions. ShipsFocus usually suggests an ‘entry-level’ approach and identifies a small or ‘data-capturing’ operation, for example the terminal’s jetty scheduling.

A scheduling tool is then recommended to capture data digitally and naturally in the work process of the scheduler. This requires a change of habit for the scheduler. But consistent usage ensures that this new skill is acquired quickly. Manual data-recording activity is completely eradicated as a result.

More applications are being added to Portview as different stakeholders combine their own data, some of which is proprietary, to create new values, specifically in reducing wait time, demurrage and improving utilisation.


During the development of Portview, ShipsFocus identified several key takeaways that can help key stakeholders:

1. The company’s domain understanding was much appreciated as some were frustrated with the inability to ‘keep up’ to the hype, as most research and materials available were for the container segment, which was unsuitable;

2. Many erroneously believed an analogue system was needed for dynamic operations like booking, scheduling, and event recording. These involve tediously repetitious work and data-entry processes. Also, the data generated is often dirty due to entry errors, omissions and non-standardised practices;

3. Many liked the SaaS (Software as a Service) subscription model, which reduces heavy upfront cost and risk of non-delivery;

4. Many did not know how to link big data, or AI with their current operations. Portview eradicates the need to understand big data and AI and integrates with the company’s day-to-day operations acting as a tool and providing supportive decision-making insights;

5. Even with many stakeholders hesitant to share data, Portview was able to identify ship call-patterns that show benefits of coordination among the terminals.


1. Based on MPA 2018 figures.

2. The automatic identification system (AIS) is an automatic tracking

system that uses transponders on ships and is used by vessel traffic

services (VTS). When satellites are used to detect AIS signatures, the

term Satellite-AIS (S-AIS) is used.

Chye Poh Chua will be talking more about the application of big data and AI in reducing waiting times and to enhance terminal utilisation, along with Mark Lim from Stolthaven Terminals, during the second day of the Tank Storage Asia conference on September 26. For more information visit