September 6, 2021


Written By: Commodore Anil Jai Singh, IN

In the Maritime India Summit 2021 held in March 2021, the Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, while inaugurating the event, spoke of India’s intent to emerge as a leading Blue Economy of the world and invited the world to be a part of India’s growth story[1]. Most significantly, the prime Minister asserted that India will shed the piecemeal approach adopted so far and will and focus holistically on the entire sector. Later, the Prime Minister released the ‘Maritime India Vision 2030,’ a 10 year roadmap for the development of the maritime sector and unveiled the plaque of ‘Sagar-Manthan: Mercantile Maritime Domain Awareness Centre (MM-DAC)’, an information sharing mechanism to enhance regional maritime security, improve SAR (Search and Rescue) capability and protect the maritime environment.

Earlier, in 2010, the previous government had promulgated a ‘Maritime Agenda 2010-2020,’ which was also a 10 year roadmap with clearly defined milestones.[2] At first glance itself, that agenda had seemed too ambitious but it was hoped that the government was serious about walking the talk. Many aspects of this agenda got absorbed into Sagarmala,[3] the port-led maritime infrastructure programme promulgated by the present government in 2015, which continues to be a work in progress with a 20 year timeline. Disappointingly however, at the end of 2020, India had fallen far short of the intended milestones across the entire maritime sector and had barely improved its global standing as a maritime power.

Indias Maritime Credentials

India has been blessed with a favourable maritime geography. Its peninsular geographic conformation notwithstanding, it is essentially a maritime nation with a 7,516 km long coastline with nine coastal states and four coastal Union Territories. More than 200 million Indians live in the country’s coastal districts with a large majority of them dependent on the sea for their sustenance and economic well-being. It has a 2 million sq. km plus Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which is rich in resources and a future source of sustenance. This expanse, however, remains largely unexplored. The 75,000 sq. km allocated to India in the Central Indian Ocean region for poly-metallic nodule exploration also remains untapped.[4]

India is also heavily dependent on the sea for its energy requirements. Over 85% of India’s crude oil and over 50% of gas is seaborne and most of its indigenous efforts are focussed on offshore exploration. Refined petroleum goods, which constitute the largest percentage of India’s exports, also transit over the sea. Hence, India’s energy security and the security of India’s energy are dependent on the sea. More than 90% of India’s trade by volume and over 75% by value travels over the sea and is serviced by a network of 13 major ports and over 200 non-major ports. The development of coastal shipping and inland waterways which was almost non-existent until a few years ago is continuing to progress but needs to gather more momentum.

The two strategically important island territories of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the east and the Lakshadweep group on the west besides being a security asset also offer tremendous potential for progressing India’s economic maritime initiatives including investment in marine tourism. However, the delicate and fragile ecological balance will need to be carefully maintained and regulated to reap long-term benefits.

With such impeccable maritime credentials and its dependence on the maritime domain, not only for its economic well-being, but also for its future development and national security, meeting the milestones outlined in the Maritime Vision 2030 document is an imperative that can no longer be put on the back burner.

The Maritime Development Challenge

India is presently languishing well below global standards in almost all parameters of maritime power. The Indian Navy may rank amongst the best in the world and is central to India’s maritime aspirations but it is only one of the many constituents that define maritime power.

India’s development story faces numerous socio-economic challenges. India’s manufacturing capability has been lagging in recent years and we are yet to become a global manufacturing hub in any significant sector. In the maritime sector, India’s share of global shipbuilding is less than 1% and is far short of the 5% target outlined in the Maritime Agenda 2010-2020. Despite the high volume of national trade passing through its ports, not even one Indian port figures in the world’s top 25 ports (Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust – JNPT- off Mumbai is ranked 28th) or even in the first 10 in Asia. Its ship repair industry is uneconomical and lags far behind in global best practices with the result that even Indian flagged vessels prefer to dock in foreign ship repair yards.

In 2019, as per the statistics issued by the Shipping Ministry, India’s Merchant Fleet stood at 1,429 vessels with a total tonnage of 12.746 million tons. These impressive numbers however paint a misleading picture as only 9.7% of India’s foreign trade and 59% of its coastal trade is carried on Indian ships, which not only results in a massive outflow of foreign exchange (estimated at USD 50 Bn) but is also a strategic vulnerability the country can ill afford. Further, a majority of these ships are more than 20 years old and hence uneconomical to operate in the contemporary technology-intensive environment. Its fishing fleet is antiquated and is still dominated by traditional practices with little state support for improving its efficiency and catch. The country’s marine resources also remain largely untapped for want of adequate effort.

India aspires to become a USD 5 trillion economy by 2024, an increase of more than 40% over the current USD 3 trillion within the next three years.[5] This is indeed an ambitious goal and will require an extraordinary national effort at every level, both within the government and out of it. The country’s growth as an economic powerhouse is inextricably linked to its rise as a maritime power and therefore depends on its ability to harness its tremendous maritime potential with timely and efficient implementation of the ambitious targets laid down in the Maritime Vision 2030 and the Sagarmala programme. The SAGAR Doctrine (an acronym for Security And Growth for All in the Region) enunciated by the Prime Minister during his visit to Mauritius in June 2015 as an inclusive capacity building architecture with the countries in the Indian Ocean Region for the safety and security of the region’s maritime interests, also forms an important constituent as it highlights the close linkage between security and economic growth. This doctrine is aimed at achieving the latter while ensuring the former.

Meeting these lofty objectives will require intent, resources and most importantly, technology. While the intent has been spelt out in the documents and it is understood that a sum of about Rs 3 lakh crore (USD 41.44 Bn) has been set aside as a dedicated Maritime Development Fund to meet the targets of the Maritime Vision 2030, it is the effective and efficient utilisation of technology that will be the key to realising these goals.

This paper will attempt to provide an overview of how present and emerging technologies can be applied as effective force multipliers in achieving the milestones laid out in Maritime Vision 2030, which is now the official policy document for shaping India’s maritime future in this decade.

Maritime Vision 2030

The India Brand Equity Foundation[6] in its report titled ‘India’s Maritime Sector – Rising Above the Waves’ has identified 10 key themes in the Vision document. These include the development of best-in-class port infrastructure, enhancement of logistic efficiency through technology and innovation, strengthening the policy and institutional framework, enhancement of the global share in shipbuilding, ship repair and recycling, improvement in  the inland waterways infrastructure, promotion of marine tourism, to become a world leader in ensuring a safe and sustainable maritime sector and enhancement of India’s global standing in maritime cooperation, world class education, research  and training.

Underlining these themes are two fundamental requirements viz, infrastructure augmentation and technology infusion. The infrastructure augmentation highlighted in the document includes the following:

  • The setting up of three mega ports with a capacity of over 300 million tonnes of cargo, mainly in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Odisha and developing a West Bengal cluster with a major investment of Rs 80,000 crore (USD 11.05 Bn).
  • A 3-fold increase in cargo transhipment within the country from the existing 25% to about 75% through development of transhipment hubs Kanyakumari and Campbell Bays and through Vizhinjam port.
  • Rationalising vessel-related charges to bring on par with global ports through Enterprise Business System (EBS) and a National Maritime Logistics Portal and expediting the entire process through digitisation and other innovative technology driven value additions.
  • Increasing the draught to 14-18 metres with at least three ports at over 18 metres to enable the berthing of larger vessels.
  • Introducing Green initiatives including enhancing renewable energy to over 60% from the present level of about 10%.
  • Promoting ‘waste to wealth’ through sustainable practices in ship recycling and and dredging.

Each of these activities is underscored by technology which will drive these initiatives. The world is now poised on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution 4.0 which is ushering in an era of new technologies that is transforming the industrial landscape in unimaginable ways. The pace of change due to the exponential rise in computing power is breathtaking and is driving these technologies, termed ‘disruptive’ to highlight their ability to alter the status quo and shake industry out of its comfort zone of business as usual. These are also going to impact the maritime domain across all sectors towards increasing efficiencies, supporting the country’s Blue Economy and climate change initiatives and reducing the investment in human and resource capital. The maritime economy is going to be one of the main drivers of the global economy in the 21st century and efficient use of this technology in the maritime domain is going to benefit humanity in many ways.

The rapid advancement in global engineering technologies over the last half century found numerous applications in the maritime sector, which led to the modernisation of ports, improved efficiency in ship turnaround times, containerisation and enhanced port security. In the ship building sector too, this included automation, 3D modelling of ship design, modular construction, usage of composites and lighter materials, and enhanced efficiency in the manufacturing process in shipyards. Adoption of these technologies, while cost effective, were extremely capital intensive. India was unable to capitalise on this and Indian industry was unable to make the necessary investments in overhauling the existing infrastructure due to economic constraints, the high cost of capital, an unresponsive bureaucratic machinery and above all, the lack of a competitive environment.

For India, with its underlying strength in IT, the Industrial Revolution 4.0 presents an opportunity to leapfrog the technology curve by leveraging its IT skills towards developing the competitive edge. Nowhere is this more relevant than in the maritime sector where India stands on a transformational cusp of realising its ambitions as a maritime power of reckoning.

Port Infrastructure

Elevating India’s present ports to global best-in-class standards in the space of less than a decade is a challenging task. Not only does this involve modernising the existing ports but also optimising the limited resources towards building three new ports outlined in the Vision Document for enhancing the nation’s cargo capacity. Coastal shipping and inland waterways are also being developed as alternate means for the transportation of goods within the country and to serve as a feeder to the bigger ports. Hence, the non-major ports, some of which lack even rudimentary infrastructure will also have to be upgraded, both with a technologically efficient infrastructure and introduction of contemporary technologies.

A ‘Major Ports Authority Bill’ is under discussion in Parliament. This will supersede the existing Act that has been in force since 1963 which has become archaic in the technologically advanced and competitive working environment. This Bill has proposed greater functional autonomy in the running of ports, streamlining of the decision-making process and revising the existing institutional framework to align with the contemporary environment.

Indian ports need to focus their attention on streamlining their operations, reducing the turnaround time of ships, improving the security architecture and ensuring an increase in their throughput. The use of artificial intelligence to prioritise cargo movement, ensure cargo bay optimisation and the speedy movement of goods can affect savings in hundreds of crores of rupees, improve the cargo handling figures with more ships being able to berth, and streamline the flow of goods between ports and from ship to shore. India has identified transhipment as one of the priority areas in the Maritime Vision 2030.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be used to streamline and prioritise the transhipment of containers, thus reducing the turnaround time of ships and the congestion of ships waiting their turn. Automation of the loading process and cargo distribution with the use of AI can reduce the empty spaces, rearrange cargo when loading and unloading to ensure the equitable distribution of weight, hitherto done by lengthy calculations that always had scope for error, and thus also reducing risk for the vessel at sea

The use of Data Analytics, which offers a solution based on the ability to analyse vast quantity of data facilitated by the computing capacity and speed, can enhance efficiencies in port operations by analysing numerous parameters and offering solutions related to cargo movement, container data, weight distribution etc.


The global shipbuilding industry is extremely competitive and India has found itself on the back foot with less than 1% share of global shipbuilding. This is mainly attributable to archaic shipbuilding practices in antiquated shipyards and a non-competitive environment. Hence, Indian shipyards have been found sadly wanting in competing with the modern shipyards in China, Japan and South Korea where efficient practices backed by government support in the form of subsidies has helped them corner more than 95% of the global shipbuilding demand.[7] In the last decade, despite the stated aim of cornering 5% of the global shipbuilding market, the shipbuilding industry is yet to be provided an enabling environment. Bureaucratic apathy and lack of encouragement and incentives to compete globally, has in fact led to three large private shipyards shutting down due to financial insolvency.

Enhancement in the global share of shipbuilding has been reiterated in the Vision 2030 document but our inability to reach even 10% of the shipbuilding target laid out in the Maritime Agenda 2010-2020 should serve as a reminder of the challenge ahead, which mere policy pronouncements with ambitious figures will not achieve. Shipbuilding is a long lead-time activity and requires sustained and timely support.

The Industrial Revolution 4.0 has provided an opportunity to revitalise the shipbuilding sector in the country. India‘s existing shipyards are in dire need of modernisation and should be provided the support to make the transformation into a modern automated facility with efficient practices backed by technology. The effective application of emerging technologies could change the complexion of India’s shipbuilding industry by the end of this decade. Technologies like 3D Printing are now being used worldwide to not only optimise shipbuilding costs and enhance efficiency but also in simplifying complexities in ship design and recreating components and parts thus shortening the supply chain leading to cost and time savings in new ship manufacture and repair.

The use of robotics has benefited from digitalisation. Shipyards are increasingly using robots in their production system to increase the speed and scale of production and optimise costly human resource. Robots are now performing tasks like pipe inspections and hull cleaning which ensures better and uniform quality of work to more exacting and specific standards. The use of Virtual and Augmented Reality (AR) in shipbuilding to minimise physical wastage, validate and improve complex shipbuilding processes and streamlining the hull dynamics and stability calculations during the design process. The creation of a ‘digital twin using AR is also finding many applications in the shipbuilding eco-system.

The use of alternate fuels, the adoption of Fuel Optimisation Systems etc are being used by shipbuilders to offer cleaner and more efficient ships. The use of LNG as an alternative fuel to diesel reportedly reduces carbon emissions by up to 25%.

The shipbuilding industry is  focussing its attention on Smart Ships Solutions with cyber being used to enable data from sensors in various areas of the ship be monitored towards encouraging the use of more efficient practices on board. Smart ships are a reality and could usher in a paradigm shift in ship operations. Shipbuilding and merchant shipping are strategic assets. India must therefore create an eco-system, which encourages Indian shipyards to build modern, efficient and cost effective vessels for Indian shipping companies. This would be a win-win for the sector and would enable both to become globally competitive while simultaneously retaining the strategic advantage in the face of the inevitable maritime security challenges to our trade and sovereignty.


The shipping industry is adapting rapidly to modern technologies with a focus on autonomy,  the IoT and Data Analytics. These ‘smart’ ship technologies are transforming the existing paradigm with the entire maritime industry and eco-system moving in this direction. The use of autonomous systems combined with the automation on board will provide the human element a wider range of options and system generated optimal solutions. IoT and increasing use of the cloud is enabling greater flow of information from ashore and better decision making afloat. Various spaces on board can be accessed with the help of an app or with remote monitoring. In the event of an emergency, this access would enable timely corrective action to be initiated. Similarly, the control of hatch doors, bays, bulkhead systems and hydraulics can be done remotely.

Data Analytics is helping to access the enormous quantities of data towards enhancing efficiency and outputs while enabling savings and optimising time management, all of which are critical to the shipping industry. The digital analysis of oceanographic data and weather patterns, to increase both safety and economy in routing ships and minimising delays due to inclement weather or adverse ocean conditions through digital charts and electronic chart display systems, is now a standard feature on board ships.

The focus on autonomous systems is finding applications in the maritime domain. Autonomous merchant vessels are now in an active stage of development. Autonomous steering and navigation systems are being integrated with port traffic management schemes through AI and machine learning to facilitate smoother entry and exit of ships from congested ports and restricted waters. Smart ship technologies are being effectively applied for collision avoidance and safe navigation.

Similarly, Integrated Platform Management Systems and smart propulsion are enabling remote management and health monitoring of propulsion, machinery spaces and auxiliary systems on board thus reducing time lost due to equipment failure and safe and optimal exploitation of on-board machinery. Shipping is also set to gain from the increasing use of blockchain technology to enable better supply chain management with the ease of data transfer for tracking the movement of cargo.

A revolutionary technology that can indirectly impact global shipping is the idea of a Hyper-loop Transportation System. Conceptualised by Elon Musk for rapid transportation of people and light goods, the Prime Minister and the Maharashtra government have expressed keenness in setting up a hyper-loop system between Pune and Mumbai including the airport and the JNPT Port and have signed up with the Virgin Group to develop the project. It is believed that this proposed hyper-loop will reduce accidents, effect time and cost savings worth USD 55 billion over a period of 30 years and will help reduce greenhouse gas emission by approximately 86,000 tons/year. It will also build a more efficient supply chain.[8]

These innovative technologies are just the tip of the iceberg. Shipping is changing at an extraordinary pace with these technology solutions signalling a global renaissance in an industry that has been critical to the development of mankind.  India, with its ancient maritime heritage can and must keep pace with this transformation. Shipping is also an important source of employment. India’s global share of seafarers is about 12% at present. Reaching the intended level of 20% by 2030 will require great deal more to be done to improve the quality of training.  The use of modern technological tools like Big Data, IoT, VR/AR  etc can effectively ensure that the training of Indian seafarers is aligned with global standards and is able to ensure that our seafarers can compete with the best in an increasingly sophisticated technological environment on board ships.

Ship Repair and Ship Recycling

Amongst the other themes highlighted in the Maritime Vision, ship repair is closely linked to shipbuilding. Technology can provide cost effective solutions to make India a ship repair hub, which could begin with Indian ship owners making Indian yards their preferred choice. Similarly, India’s ship recycling industry, which at one time was very active, found itself at the wrong end of environmental concerns because of crude and archaic practices. In December 2019, India acceded to the IMO drafted Hong Kong Convention, which has laid down the global standards for safe and environmentally sound ship recycling[9]. India and Turkey are the only two among the five top ship-recycling nations in the world to accede to this Convention which should help India regain pole position without the accompanying environmental hazards.

Perhaps more than anything else in the maritime domain, technology will play a leading role in furthering the Blue Economy and sustainable development of the oceans. India has been at the forefront in promoting the UN Sustainable Development Goals as a responsible regional power and many of its capacity building initiatives in the region are aimed at checking climate change and illegal exploitation of the oceans. India must use the benefits of modern technology to harness the power of the oceans for alternate sources of energy and livelihood. There is a plan to establish a regulatory framework aligned to both, our sovereign concerns as well as the international regulatory framework and the creation of a maritime authority to bring about the cohesion, synergy and efficiency in the approach to the maritime domain as highlighted by the Prime Minister earlier this year. This has been lacking so far because of the multitude of ministries, departments and organisations linked to the maritime domain with differing priorities of their own. Technology will be the most effective tool in ensuring the robustness of this maritime governance and regulatory architecture.

India has also taken the lead in developing partnerships with other countries, which have pioneered ‘green’ technologies. One such is Denmark with whom India is engaging in a number of areas related to the maritime domain including the setting up of a Maritime Knowledge Cluster.


The advent of modern technology will bring about major improvements in the maritime eco-system but the application of these transformative technologies will require both intent and effort, to ensure result-oriented progress in research, development and innovation across the spectrum of maritime activity within the country.  Successful adoption of these technologies will depend upon the policy framework, the regulatory structure, the concern for the environment and the streamlining of processes to drive down costs and improve efficiency. The Global Maritime Technology Trends 2030[10] has highlighted two scenarios which will shape the future of shipping; the first will originate from within the industry to use technology for commercial advantages and the second will be from other related sectors including design and safety.

Maritime power is an important constituent of a country’s comprehensive national power. As the world turns increasingly to the sea for its future sustenance and development, the importance of the maritime sector is set to grow. India, despite its impressive maritime credentials has been unable to leverage this effectively into becoming a leading global maritime power. As India seeks to become a USD 5 trillion economy and the Prime Minister on more than one occasion, has articulated his vision of India as a maritime power, it has to take a leadership role in the region. The backbone of the technology revolution is Information Technology, which India with its strength in IT, must leverage to drive India’s maritime economy at the desired pace to achieve the objectives laid down in the Maritime Vision 2030.

Author Brief Bio: Commodore Anil Jai Singh is the Vice President of the Indian Maritime Foundation. 


[1] dated 02 March 2021.

[2] Release dated 13 January 2011.


[4] PIB, Ministry of Earth Sciences GoI, 21 August 2017

[5] Economic Times dated 04 February 2020 “Govt sticks to USD 5 Trillion economy target”

[6] IBEF Report “India’s Maritime Sector, Rising Above the Waves”

[7] Review_2021_Shipbuilding.pdf dated 18 December 2020

[8] dated 27 December 2020.

[9] dated 28 November 2019

[10] Global Marine Technology Trends 2030 ©2015 Lloyds Register,Qinetiq and University of Southampton.


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