How “Smart Ports” can be a game changer in the Pacific

Article | 1 February 2021

Maritime trade is a vital industry for countries in the Pacific, which rely almost entirely on imports for their essential goods. However, small Pacific island nations have had to deal for some time with old, degrading port infrastructure that seriously hampers the potential of these economies to benefit more from maritime trade.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) study Smart Ports in the Pacific explores how adapting international best practices for ports in the Pacific is important for achieving smarter, more robust port ecosystems.

In the same way smartphones changed the communications landscape, smart ports show much promise in being a game-changer in the Pacific region.

What is a Smart Port?

According to Port Technology International, a smart port is one that ensures “no waste of space, time, money, and natural resources.” The concept of smart ports involves harnessing advanced technologies to enhance port operational efficiency, energy efficiency, and environmental sustainability. The port of the future is expected to be 100% electric, local emissions-free, and able to process more goods in less time.

Smart Ports in the Pacific was commissioned to assess and develop the potential of smart ports in the region, taking into account the region’s unique features in terms of geographical remoteness, smaller trade volumes that heavily favor imports, and challenging weather conditions. The Pacific has unique challenges when it comes to climate change and natural hazards. Typhoons, earthquakes, tsunamis, and other weather disturbances can disrupt marine vessel traffic and significantly impact maritime trade.

The following ports in the Pacific were assessed in the study for potential to have smart ports:

  • Queen Salote International Wharf in Tonga
  • Honiara Port in Solomon Islands
  • Suva Port in Fiji (pictured below)

Suva Port in Fiji

Taking into account the geographical features of the Pacific, the study highlighted crucial points for successfully establishing smart ports in the Pacific.

The Smart Ports Mission Statement for the Pacific

  1. There is no one-size-fits-all solution in implementing smart ports in the Pacific. The specific characteristics of each port should be considered in planning, designing, and constructing a smart port. Gathering data on ports, such as accurate weather data and prediction models, is highly important.
  2. Staff skills and safety should be prioritized. As smart ports feature new technologies, people need to develop the skills needed to operate, maintain, and improve these tools and systems and ensure their sustainability.
  3. Partnerships play an important role in ensuring that digitalization will be maximized for all port users. An Internet of Things (IoT) is among the primary features of a smart port. An IoT facilitates seamless data sharing, digitization, and automation within a smart port—from inputs to feedback. In December 2020, ADB approved a $45 million grant to help rehabilitate and upgrade the Queen Salote Wharf in the Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa. The Nuku’alofa Port Project is designed with green and smart components.

In the Pacific, the advanced technologies and international best practices required for smart ports need to be weighed with the local realities of small trade volumes, geographical isolation, and extreme weather events to enhance operational and energy efficiency and improve environmental sustainability. With this approach, smart ports can be the game changer they promise to be for the Pacific.

Download: Smart Ports in the Pacific