The three largest overseas shipping companies in the world are now using the same blockchain-based digital tracking system, which enables an electronic ledger that all members can see in near real time.
A.P. Moller-Maersk (Maersk), which developed the TradeLens supply chain platform with IBM, said Switzerland-based Mediterranean Shipping Co. (MSC) and France-based CMA CGM are using the blockchain platform to track cargo ships and containers.
MSC has 471 container vessels and CMA GSM has 428 ships, making them the second and third largest shipping lines in the world behind Maersk; the latter has 580 vessels.
Since Maersk and IBM first launched the TradeLens in 2018, more than 100 shipping and cargo firms have signed on to track vessels and shipping containers via the immutable electronic ledger. The system, based on Hyperledger blockchain, uses a shared governance system through which members hold others accountable for data input and must approve of new blocks added to the ledger.
"In addition to being able to contribute and view data on the platform, CMA GCM and MSC will play vital roles as validators on the blockchain network to conduct consensus, something critical in ensuring the network's integrity as it continues to grow in scale and complexity," a IBM spokesperson said via email.
The electronic shipping ledger records details of cargo shipments as they leave their origin, arrive in ports, are moved overseas and eventually received by manufacturers and others. TradeLens enables competing shippers to connect, share information and collaborate across the shipping supply chain ecosystem. Members gain a comprehensive view of their data and can digitally collaborate as cargo moves around the world, helping create a transparent, secure, immutable record of transactions.
"Digital collaboration is a key to the evolution of the container shipping industry. The TradeLens platform has enormous potential to spur the industry to digitize the supply chain and build collaboration around common standards," André Simha, chief digital & information officer at MSC, said in a statement. "We think that the TradeLens Advisory Board, as well as standards bodies such as the Digital Container Shipping Association, will help accelerate that effort."
Traditionally, the international shipping industry's information systems have used paper legal documents, with electronic data transmitted via electronic data interchange (EDI) – a 60-year-old technology that doesn't present real-time data. Shipping participants have also shared documents via email, fax and courier. Digitizing that process significantly cuts down on paper trails and processing time.
When information is entered or scanned in manually, TradeLens can track critical data about every shipment in a supply chain, the companies said.
Some shipping manifests can also be moved via an API to the TradeLens platform, giving manufacturers and others in the supply chain more timely information and improved visibility to the process.
Procter & Gamble is one of the cargo owners on the network and one of world's top importers of raw materials, IBM said; it is using TradeLens as part of a "massive" supply chain that will benefit from a comprehensive view of cargo data as it moves around the world.
Along with freight forwarders, transportation companies and logistics firms, more than 20 port and terminal operators are using – or have agreed to pilot – TradeLens, including PSA Singapore, International Container Terminal Services Inc., Patrick Terminals and Modern Terminals Ltd. in Hong Kong.
Customs agencies such the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Canada Border Services Agency and the Customs Administration of the Netherlands are also using TradeLens.
Among the first beta partners of the TradeLens blockchain was Hong Kong-based Modern Terminals.
"Digitized documentation that can at the same time be authenticated will drive down costs and increase supply chain security," Modern Terminals CEO Peter Levesque said in an earlier interview.
As a port operator, Modern Terminals doesn't need to track shipments outside of its operating environment, but it tracks the status of containers coming in and out of its terminals via a Terminal Operating System (TOS); many of those terminals rely on EDI and wireless LANs and Radio-frequency identification (RFID) to monitor cargo movements. The company handles about 5.5 million shipping containers per year at its Hong Kong business unit.
As with open blockchains in other industries, including real estate and financial services, Maersk recognized the benefit of an open industry ledger allowing its competitors in for collaboration. Along with IBM, Maersk has been creating standardized APIs and a developer tool kit to enable outside innovation around the platform.
"Digitization is a cornerstone of the CMA CGM Group's strategy to provide an end-to-end offer tailored to our customers' needs. We believe that TradeLens, with its commitment to open standards and open governance, is a key platform to help usher in this digital transformation," Rajesh Krishnamurthy, executive vice president of IT & Transformations for CMA CGM Group, said in a statement. "TradeLens' network is already showing that participants from across the supply chain ecosystem can derive significant value."