Building Resilient Port Infrastructure: Lessons From The Baltimore Bridge Collapse

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  • The recent collapse of a major bridge in Baltimore revealed a vulnerability in the US’s port and shipping infrastructure, raising concerns about the resilience of port infrastructure worldwide.
  • As ships grow larger and crew sizes decrease, concerns about port safety increase. Examining Asia’s port infrastructure, particularly Singapore, provides valuable insights into the importance of resilience in maintaining global trade flows.
  • Leveraging data and embracing technology are crucial steps in fortifying port infrastructure against unforeseen events.

When a massive container ship collided with a bridge in Baltimore last month, causing the complete collapse of one of the city’s main harbor crossings, the world’s shipping industry winced. This deadly tragedy not only brought a port that sees $80 billion in annual trade to a stop but also revealed a worrying vulnerability in the US’s port and shipping infrastructure, which currently has more than 300 unprotected bridges.

Bigger Vessels, Smaller Crews

What led to the catastrophic collapse in Baltimore? One fact that has emerged is that such incidents have been predicted in the shipping industry for decades. This is attributed to the fact that ships are getting bigger, and their crews are getting smaller. Container ships in the 1970s carried around 1,000 containers. Today, these massive vessels carry up to 24,000 containers and are managed by a scant crew.

Strategic Straits

While China is home to most of the world’s busiest ports, Singapore’s strategic location makes a great case study for the value of resilience. The country’s iconic skyline overlooks one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, with hundreds of ships anchored off the island waiting to berth. Last year, the world’s second busiest port handled close to 40 million containers, making The Little Red Dot absolutely strategic to world trade. Singapore is also innovating rapidly, building the world’s first fully-automated container port that will handle some 65 million containers a year when it launches in 2040.

Data and Digital Transformation

Disasters like the Baltimore bridge collapse are a wake-up call for authorities to better understand their infrastructure and better manage their ports. Leveraging data and embracing technology are crucial steps in fortifying port infrastructure against unforeseen events. By leveraging data-driven insights, port operators can better understand their vulnerabilities and build better, more resilient infrastructure capable of preventing or at least withstanding unforeseen events like collisions. As ports tackle modern trade challenges like larger ships and busier routes, data analysis and AI enable informed decision-making and optimized, safer operations.

With the world’s largest, busiest, and fastest-growing ports, authorities across Asia must urgently reassess the strength of their infrastructure and use every tool in the chest to build resilience as trade accelerates. And, as in most industries, data rules. By leveraging data-driven insights, port operators can better understand their vulnerabilities and build better, more resilient infrastructure capable of preventing or at least withstanding unforeseen events like collisions.

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Source: Seatrade-Maritime