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Blockchain finds a home at sea

But skeptical Korean shippers could end up being left behind
May 25,2018
Skeptical Korean stakeholders are in danger of being left behind as the global shipping industry goes blockchain crazy.

Tim Smith, Asia-Pacific head of A.P. Moller-Maersk affiliate APM Terminals, said Thursday that the company, along with its blockchain business partner IBM, plans to release two applications that increase visibility and efficiency in the shipping trade within this year at a seminar held by the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea in Seoul.

Blockchain, the technology behind cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, is a type of digital ledger that stores records on separate computers. As distributed ledgers make it hard for outsiders to hack or manipulate data, the technology is considered a viable way to enhance security and transparency in transactions.

Maersk and IBM had been cooperating since 2016 in an effort to digitize the shipping process, and earlier this year, the two announced a plan to establish a joint venture dedicated to transforming the shipping trade with blockchain.

The two have yet to introduce a concrete outcome out of their cooperation, but according to Smith, their first launch will be two applications: one that enhances the visibility of a good’s end-to-end supply chain, from warehouse to the end customer, and another that enables paperless trade.

In Korea, the largest trans-Pacific ocean carrier, Hyundai Merchant Marine, tested blockchain technology on shipping in partnership with 36 other companies in a consortium led by IT service provider Samsung SDS and government agencies like the Korea Customs Service last year.

However, representatives from the Korean shipping industry said there are still many obstacles in applying the technology.

“We agree that blockchain is the next big thing in the shipping industry,” said Jung Kyung-in, managing director at Hyundai Merchant Marine. “But what we have learned through our pilot test last year was that it’s not only about whether the technology is available, it’s more about whether industry players and regulating agencies are ready to embrace the disruption.”

According to Yoon Hyun-soo, a director at the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, local laws related to customs clearance, quarantine, transportation, international trade, finance and insurance would need to be changed.


BY KIM JEE-HEE [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]