Strategic Priorities

Innovation & Digitalisation

Position European shipping as the global leaders of maritime innovators and pioneers of connected maritime transport.

Europe needs to act fast to lead the new wave of innovations and set the standard for global competition in shipping.

Research and Development (R&D) and innovation are vital for the long-term sustainability and competitiveness of the EU shipping industry. Investing in R&D and innovation is investing in Europe's future. Europe needs to act fast to lead the new wave of innovations and set the standard for global competition in shipping.

Initiatives such as the Maritime Industry Decarbonisation Council (MIDC) and the Waterborne Technology Platform can contribute to this.

The shipping industry wants to take its responsibility in the fight against climate change and decarbonise as quickly as possible in accordance with the IMO’s April 2018 initial strategy on reducing international shipping’s GHG emissions. Full decarbonisation is only possible with a transformation to alternative propulsion systems and/or low carbon or zero carbon fuels, that are globally available.

This challenge offers vast opportunities for the European maritime cluster, that is well positioned given its extensive know-how and expertise. However, competition from outside the EU is rapidly intensifying, with strong governmental support. Combined and focused efforts by the European institutions and the European maritime cluster are needed to make sure that the challenges can be turned into opportunities, to the benefit of the European economy, growth and jobs.

The shipping industry will also go through fundamental changes as a consequence of the continued process of digitalisation. In combination with the new development of increased degrees of autonomy of vessels, the shipping industry will face new challenges and opportunities.

Digitalisation and automation can create opportunities such as increased efficiency, safety and environmental performance. It can be a source for environmental sustainability as it continues to provide maritime services whilst being more energy- and resource-efficient.

It is important that the human element - all human interactions with the design, construction, management and operation of ships - is taking into account. The demand for specialised and highly skilled crews will increase and reskilling, upskilling and new skills will be required in order to operate ships and will be essential to ensure the sustainability of the sector.

Training seafarers in new technologies will enable them to benefit from new opportunities that arise from technological developments. The skills strategy being developed by the SkillSea project will be most pertinent in this regard. There will also be a need for updated international standards required by the IMO’s Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) to reflect the demands of new technologies. On this, we are involved with the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) in a research project on the use of digitalisation to improve onboard safety and its impact on shipping operations generally, including employment at sea and ashore.

As the industry becomes increasingly digitised and automated, the repercussions of cyber-risks on safety and reliability also require consideration. Cyber threats may cause profound disruption to shipping operations. The industry is fully engaged in discussions at both European and international levels to find the best approach to combat cyber-crimes. Cyber-security and safety management is an area that will require more attention as new technologies are being introduced.

The development of new technologies and increased digitalisation should also be seen from a broader perspective and focus should be on the entire transport and logistics chain. Moreover, the shipping industry and the maritime cluster need to establish cross-sectoral cooperation with other modes of transport, the logistics’ chain and other industries.


With this objective in mind, ECSA calls for:

  • a fair and increased share of Research & Innovation support to be allocated to the whole maritime cluster
  • EU R&I schemes to support innovative shipping solutions such as alternative fuels and means of propulsion
  • the EU, the maritime cluster, and infrastructure and service providers to work together with the IMO to mitigate the risks of cyberattacks both at sea and ashore
  • the regulatory clarity of existing international legislation that is holistic and encourages sustainable innovation
  • EU institutions and stakeholders to involve the social partners in any discussions in EU fora on these developments