Episode 11: Nick Chubb
In the latest episode of "Maritime Means...", we sit down with Nick Chubb, Founder and Managing Director at Thetius, a research and technology advisory firm in the maritime industry. We dig deep into the potential of AI on ships, but also shoreside; how voyage optimization depends on multiple factors like contracts; and how automation can make merchant mariners working conditions better. And we talk about the current state of piracy in the high seas.Listen now (00:46:14)
Full episode transcript
- Welcome into another episode of Maritime Means, a podcast by Spire Maritime dedicated to building a community of innovators. I am your host Blythe Brumleve and I'm happy to welcome in Nick Chubb. He is the founder and managing director at Thetius, a research and technology advisory firm to the maritime industry. And today we're going to be talking about research and innovation that's all happening within the space, so Nick, welcome into the show.
- Thanks Blythe, really excited to be here.
Introducing Thetius and Nick
Nick explains the origins of Thetius and the connections to his past as a merchant mariner.
- I probably should have asked before we started hitting record, but did I pronounce your company name correctly?
- Yeah you got it bang on. I say Thetius but a lot of Greeks correct me that actually I'm saying it wrong, so I think Thetius might actually be the right way. But I say Thetius so we'll go with that.
- And you have a really interesting backstory on how you came up with that name, can you kind of share that with us?
- Yeah sure, so Thetius, which I think maybe I'm pronouncing wrong, is an ancient Greek goddess of the sea who had the gift of foresight. And a lot of what we do is about looking ahead looking to the future and trying to understand the impact that technology is going to have on the maritime industry so we stole the goddess's name and then just added the U for SEO purposes.
- Nice now, another quick on, I guess slightly related, are you aware of the running back Nick Chubb in the United States?
- Yeah yeah.
- It's a nightmare trying to do research on you because all I get is football clips.
- Yeah yeah I've given up trying to rank on Google for my own name a long time ago.
- Well, what I think is really interesting about you and your company is that you were a former merchant mariner who saw a lot of the inefficiencies while you were a mariner. But before we get into the some of the inefficiencies that you saw, what was sort of the motivation to become a merchant mariner?
- Wow, what a good question. I think the main one was travel so we have a really good system in the UK where if you go to sea, you can go straight out of school. So I went at the age of 19. You don't have to pay any school fees, you can get a degree out of it, you get your professional qualifications, you get paid to do it, you get to travel the world, you get to you know learn the profession which is obviously a wonderful thing to do. And so it just kind of stacked up really well against, for example, going to university to study music, because I would have come out with tons of debt and probably worse job prospects than I got by going to sea. But mainly that's kind of, when you look back on it, you apply those reasons, I think mainly it was just a desire to get out and see the world and have a bit of an adventure.
- Yeah, especially if you don't have to go into debt to do it, which is what so many people nowadays, when they go to school, at least in the States, they rack up sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and they don't get to see the world.
- Yeah it's the same in the UK.
Inefficiencies in maritime
We discuss the inefficiencies in the maritime space that companies like Thetius can help solve and optimize, and how Nick went about structuring a company to work on.
- So when you were a mariner what were some of those inefficiencies that you saw that that made you say "there's something I can do about this"?
- Yeah I guess I only really came to the realization that the industry could be improved through technology after I left the sea. I think when you're there you just kind of accept it as it is, and you're learning on the job. But actually I left the sea and then went to work for a startup that had nothing to do with shipping in London. It was one of my first jobs ashore and that was actually when I saw how much digitalization could make a big difference, even in heavy industries, how much automation was possible as well, and really the contrast with the fact that none of that was really happening in the maritime industry. This is going back kind of five, six years, it's changed a bit now but certainly everything, from how crew are managed on and off a ship, how the vessel is run from a technical standpoint, all of those things when I was at sea was still happening, either in excel spreadsheets or over email and lots of phone calls. All that sort of stuff and we're now just starting to get to the point where everything's beginning to to change in favor of software which is super exciting.
- And so when you were noticing a lot of those things what was that moment, that catalyst that was like "I have to start a company in order to address some of these things that are happening", that you're seeing in the space so a lot of those efficiencies that you just named?
- So I decided that I wanted to spend some time working either to help startups get into the maritime industry, because I as you say there were all those efficiencies out there, or I wanted to work with more established maritime businesses to get better at leveraging tech. And I spent a few years kind of consulting kind of across that gap. But I had the same customers coming to me with the same question over and over again, which is really things like "what's going on out there that we need to be aware of, who are the exciting startups, where is investment money going", all of that sort of stuff. And that was really when I thought "actually there's something here where we could create a company that would, rather than just me consulting on my own, we could do something that's a little bit bigger and support the industry to both understand tech, and then also know what to do about it", and that's really where Thetius came from.
- And so when you are starting the company and then you're building your team, what does that look like? Is it only a team of researchers, or do you kind of have somebody who's doing a little bit of marketing, somebody's doing a little bit of admin, and then you're the researcher? How does that structure look like?
- It's changed a lot from the early days, but yeah, it was just me doing everything and then slowly we built a team out. We did that through COVID as well, so it doesn't look how I was expecting it to look. I thought we'd be in a London office and have everyone physically come into the office and now actually in 2023 we're a remote first team, we've got people all over the world, so it definitely looked very different to how I was expecting it. But most of our team are ex-seafarers, and what we found is that it's really really difficult to replace that kind of knowledge of actually understanding how a ship operates, and it's much easier to train people up and research and analysis and give them tools to do that, than try and do it the other way around, take a researcher and teach them about how shipping works. So most of our team have come from ships, very similar background to myself, they've either been engineers or navigators and they've come ashore. And Thetius has in many instances been their first job ashore which is really cool.
- Yeah that is super interesting. And I like the point that you made about former seafarers teaching - it's easier to teach them about the research process. So what does some of that early teaching look like, to whenever you're a former seafarer, you're brought into an office to start doing research, what does that look like?
- For a lot of our team members it's actually their first job ashore. They've never worked in an office before, so often a lot of the basic things, you know, just about meetings and how to manage calendars, all that sort of stuff. And then when you get into the nitty-gritty of the work, really what we try to do is take what can be very complex technology topics and what can be very complex nuanced issues in the maritime industry, and sort of translate them back and forth both ways, so the tech people get to understand maritime, and the maritime people get to understand tech. And a lot of the emphasis that we put on for people on our analyst team is that actually, that's about being clear, not clever, and actually producing research that a common audience can understand as well as experts can get some get some value from. Often from my perspective, having been a reader of various bits of research for a long time, particularly sort of academic research, it's super inaccessible to a normal business audience, or even to an industry or technology audience. And so we just try very hard to be be as clear as we possibly can.
Nick explains the research reports that Thetius creates for maritime customers, and how they are meant to solve customer's challenges, including in the data and platform solutions area.
- Yeah, clear, not clever, I like that phrase a lot. Talk to me about the early research reports that you were creating at the start of your business, versus what you're creating now. How has that focus evolved?
- So initially the data behind Thetius started as a spreadsheet of startups in the maritime industry that I thought were cool. And over four years now that we've been running, we've evolved that into a full database of maritime innovation. So we've gone from having going out and speaking to industry experts and technology end users technology buyers, and having I guess really maybe a bit of a patchy understanding of what the whole ecosystem looks like, to now we've become much more data driven. So there's thousands of companies in our in our dataset, we take patent registrations, investment information, contract awards, partnership information... And we're still doing all the qualitative stuff, going out and speaking to buyers and end users to understand what they want. So yeah, we've gone from producing maybe three or four quite big reports a year, looking at the whole maritime market and how that is changing, to now we can produce a lot more. But also, in really niche areas - so you know, if you want to understand the connectivity market, or the vessel traffic tracking market, or the technical management software market, we've got the data to to support it. And that's where we spend most of our time now, is kind of helping ship owners, ship operators, ports, and terminals to understand what technology they could be purchasing or sort of bringing into their operation.
- And so what does that look like for some of these ship operators, or some of these other companies? Are they just sort of used to doing what they've always done, and then you kind of have to talk them into the the new research, the new tools that are coming into the market? Or are you finding that a lot of those those business owners or ship owners are willing to learn about all of the technology? Is there kind a ying and a yang there?
- I think it varies, depending on the size of the fleet, or the size of the port. But generally I think everyone recognizes now that the industry is changing fast, that technology is having a big impact. And I think, for a lot of our customers, they will make a decision that might have a knock-on impact for the next 10 years. You know, what is your fleet management system? What is your voyage management system? What's your crewing system? The switching risk is very very high, if you're going to switch from one fleet management system to another, there's all sorts of issues potentially with compliance, with losing track of spare parts, or you know, whatever it may be. And so it's very important that you make those decisions and get them right, because you'll be committed to it for some time. So that's where we sort of tend to come in, is where an operator might be trying to understand what's out there, against what they've got, and whether it's actually worth taking the risk of switching to a new supplier. And if you are going to switch to a new supplier, who? You know, every shipping company is unique, everyone has slightly unique operations, so getting them in front of the right software is is hugely important.
- What is the state of maritime software right now? Is it evolving rapidly, is it almost comparable to a lot of the AI tools that are out, that some of them are really really good, and then some of them are just not great at all? Is that sort of similar to what's going on in the maritime industry?
- Yeah, so I would say obviously COVID had a massive impact just in terms of, as soon as everyone had to work from home, the uptake of cloud software and cloud services has sort of skyrocketed. And that's had a big impact in terms of advancing what software is capable of, and also the the ability to integrate different types of software across a business. So we've gone from usually having one supplier that might have a kind of full ERP that would manage the entire business, to now actually being able to stitch together four or five best-in-class suppliers that do one thing really really well, and have APIs sort of speak "speaking" between them. I think if we wind the clock back 18 months, two years, and you were outside of an IT department, no one would know what an API is. Now most people on a fleet management team, or harbormasters, they have a kind of rudimentary understanding of what APIs are, how they work, how you can make one piece of software talk to another. So we're kind of moving away from this monolithic on-premises big investment in sort of CAPEX software, into more of this kind of cloud, smaller services that can talk to each other on a subscription basis, so that will enable and catalyze more and more change, which is quite exciting.
- It sounds like what's happening in the maritime industry is very similar to what's happening in other areas of logistics, especially in the freight world, where there were so many TMS's, Transportation Management Software, that were managing everything, and now we're seeing so much more of, I don't want to say fragmentation, but it's fragmentation but in a good way because, like you said, there are certain tools that do one thing really well, where it might be challenging for some of these bigger software companies to be able to handle everything really well, which is really difficult.
- Yeah 100 percent.
Security, cyber and otherwise
Nick's favorite report was one on cybersecurity, which leads us to also discuss the subject of sea piracy.
- So out of the years that you've been managing your business, is there one particular report that you guys have put together that really stands out as one of your favorites, and can you tell us a little bit more about it?
- Well that's a great question. The one that people come to us probably most often with, is probably around some of our work on cybersecurity. There were new rules came in from the International Maritime Organization a couple of years ago that mandated the uptake of, or the inclusion of, cybersecurity in safety management systems at sea. About six months after those rules came through, we did a bit of an assessment on kind of where the industry's at, and actually it wasn't bad. It was the industry was sort of further along than perhaps I thought it was going to be. But we got some fascinating results back from the surveys, and really identified that there were a few disconnections between people on the front line who were working at sea, to senior leadership in an office. So the more senior you are in your organization, for example, the less likely you are to be aware that a cyber attack has taken place in the last three years. So you know, things like that, and I think the reality of the fact that ransomware is a very real issue and actually a lot of companies are paying ransoms out, and that there's a whole bunch, there's a big legal gray area around if you pay a ransom out to get out of a ransomware attack that we explored in the report. So that's probably my favorite one, just for the sake of being a "wow this is quite scary" and also just having some really cool insight come back of it.
- Yeah, it's almost like modern day piracy where you can hold somebody's data and somebody's goods hostage until they pay the bounty.
- Yeah and we've even seen case studies of where it's been possible to locate where cargo is going to be on a ship, and then when that ship is passing somewhere like Somalia, to be able to send that information out to real pirates, and they can go and just steal the most high value goods on the ship, for example. So that absolutely does happen, and there's become a big kind of cyber element to all of that.
- Wow I wouldn't even put those two together, I would have just assumed that the traditional piracy that's going on in Somalia, they would just commandeer a ship and not worry about the freight that's on it. But if they're more targeted, that makes a ton of sense and, with all the data that's available, it would just almost be a lot simpler to take that route, instead of trying to go through individually each container and see if it's worth it.
- Yeah and hijacking a ship is a very dangerous - takes a long time to get paid, these hijackings go on for years in some instances, so if they can just get on and steal some really valuable stuff and get off again, the pirates are happier, the cyber criminals are happier, and obviously the shipping company and the actual ship is less happy - but yeah, it's fascinating what's possible.
- Hold on, did you just say it takes years for a pirate to finish the job?
- Less so now, but if you wind the clock back, when I was at sea, sort of 2012 to 2015, around that period, when Somali piracy was a really big issue, if a ship got hijacked, the ransom to release the ship wouldn't be paid straight away. And often they would just go into a stalemate, so the crew would be trapped on board having been pirated, the pirates would be in control of the ship, and sometimes it would be weeks, sometimes months, and there were a few occasions where it went 18 months, two years, before the crew were released. So yeah, really serious and a very horrible thing to happen for any crew members, but it's died down significantly recently, we've seen much less pirate activity in the last few years.
- Why is that? Is there any reason, is there any data to suggest why there's less activity if there's more tracking capabilities?
- In East Africa it's probably more a case of that the Somali state has become less of a failed state. Again, looking 10 years ago, a big part of what went wrong in Somalia was actually that if you look ashore there was no government at all, so it became just a kind of lawless state. Nowadays that's changed a bit. And then you've also got things like the increase in naval forces in and around the Gulf of Aden being able to patrol, and piracy is still an issue, it's just less of an issue in East Africa. So if you go to West Africa, places like the Malacca Strait in Asia, it's still an issue, but the the aim of pirates is less often to hijack the ship, and far more often just to steal stuff, steal supplies, steal cargo, that sort of thing. So it's definitely still an issue but yeah, the big hijackings are becoming quite rare.
- That's super interesting, and I know that the Head of Marketing Kevin Nakao, over at Spire, he's going to be super excited that we were able to fit pirates at some point in this "Maritime Means" series.
- I wasn't expecting to talk about it but yeah.
- Yeah I joked about it with him at the start of of our podcast series, "I'm going to try to fit pirates in, somehow" and unexpectedly this is the episode that it happens, so Kevin, if you're listening, you're welcome.
Nick discusses the topic of AI, and how he believes the most value of it might not live in ships but shoreside, and on the impact the optimization of processes might have on crew members' working conditions.
- Now, we mentioned a lot about data, we mentioned a little bit about AI. AI has just broken through with so many different technology and data usages, so where have you seen AI starting to find a foothold in the maritime industry?
- Yeah, that's a really good question, I think where it's having an impact now and where it's going to have the most impact in the short term, is in kind of shoreside processes. So large language models like, you know, everyone's talking about ChatGPT and all of that sort of stuff, taking that one step further and being able to train algorithms on very specific data sets, for example, being able to work out things like demerit claims, or work out optimal crew rotations, or optimal routing per vessel, or all of that sort of stuff, I think we're already seeing a big impact there. We're starting to see some really exciting and interesting autonomous technology on ships as well, sometimes that's AI and sometimes not, but that's definitely a growing area. But in the short term I would absolutely say it's those kind of shoreside processes that are being either automated, or just the data is being used to make better decisions, is where we're kind of seeing the biggest impact.
- In the pre-show meeting you had mentioned one thing in particular which I think is related to this, why unmanned vessels aren't the biggest opportunity for autonomy and maritime. How are some of those issues that you're seeing - is that related to AI or is AI helping to solve that? It kind of sounds like it is.
- Yeah, I think when we think about AI and autonomy and maritime, people get really excited about unmanned ships, and we're going to have ships of the future won't have any crew and all that sort of stuff. Actually we're starting to see increasingly that a lot of large ship owners are pursuing a strategy of manned autonomy, so there'll still be crew on board - there might be less crew but a lot of the navigational decision making will be done autonomously. And again, sometimes that's done with AI and sometimes not, but ultimately the the job of a seafarer, although they might be doing less driving of the ship, will remain the same: they're there to look after the ship, they're there to intervene if anything goes wrong. But what's really interesting that I think is talked about much less is what's going to happen shoreside, so anywhere within a fleet management team or a chartering team or even within a port if someone's moving data from one one place to another. I would be very surprised if that wasn't sort of fully automated in the next three to five years. So that's starting with basic robotic process automation and then getting more and more towards intelligent process automation using AI in the coming years. We're definitely starting to see that more and more, and that is all enabled by what we were talking earlier, with the move to the cloud and people understanding what APIs are, systems being able to talk to each other, slowly kind of taking taking people out of the loop of those kind of manual processes, which allows people to focus on more valuable tasks.
- And what are some of those more valuable tasks that, say, a crew on a ship can focus more on with the use of some of these newer technologies?
- That's a good question. So if you're on a traditional merchant ship, you will have officers who are working shifts to effectively drive the ship, make sure that it doesn't hit anything. They'll usually work something like four hours on, eight hours off, or depending on the ship it could be six hours, on six hours off. And they might do that for anywhere from four to nine months before they go home. Then you'll also have an engineering team as well, who are responsible for maintenance of the engines. I think the most interesting opportunity onboard ships is to be able to take those people out of that kind of watch system - we've done lots of research on fatigue and the risks of fatigue at sea and a lot of that comes down to the shift systems that have to be in place on board ships. As soon as you start to automate a lot of the basic navigational functions - and I've crossed the Indian Ocean, I've crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and we've gone 15,16 days without altering course, and not seen another ship, and there's really no reason why, particularly with some of the technology that's being developed today, why that kind of basic watch keeping duty can't be taken on by computers and by sensors and allow the humans to just work nine to five on board. Work on things like maintaining the ship, optimizing the ship, making sure it's as efficient as possible, then if something goes wrong, or if a situation is developing that perhaps is looking worrying, then the humans can come in and intervene, things like engine breakdowns are a great example where if you have the right technology in place and you've got a really effective predictive maintenance system up and running you can just have humans focus on making sure that carrying out maintenance when it's required, rather than allowing the ship to get to a point where it might break down, or equipment stops working. But definitely freeing people out of that watch system I think is going to have a big impact.
- As you were talking I'm like "this sounds so similar" because in my other job - I work mostly in the the freight space, so truckload freight - it is very similar. As you were talking to what's going on, with autonomous trucks and where it makes the most sense, and it makes most sense on those long haul routes versus the urban dwellings, where there's so many different variables that will likely never be automated. Sounds like a lot of those same issues are in cargo ships as well, or cargo ship routes where the long haul routes are going to probably be automated autonomous, and then when you get closer to shore they're going to have to take over. Is that a safe assumption?
- Yeah I would say so. I think there's kind of two aspects, really. One is how does autonomy enable you to make existing shipping more efficient, and I agree, ocean crossings, all that sort of stuff not necessarily taking people out of the picture, but at least just making their lives easier for those who are on board and possibly being able to reduce the number of crew that's required to safely run a ship. That definitely makes sense. What we see makes a lot less sense is taking people off the ship altogether for deep sea, because the economics of it actually just don't necessarily stack up. You don't get that much more cargo space against the risks that you're taking in not having people on board. And then the second aspect of that is actually what can unmanned or remote control vessels do that in manned vessels is either really expensive or very difficult to do. So there's all sorts of things, like hydrographic surveying, so making sure that we actually know what's underneath the the ocean, guard vessels for offshore installations, offshore wind farms, all that sort of stuff. We're increasingly seeing smaller unmanned vessels that might be controlled from a remote operation center now coming onto the market for all of these little niche use cases that, otherwise, it's just too difficult or too expensive to have a human do. So all of that stuff is really cool and quite exciting.
We talk about a recurring subject on Maritime - decarbonization. Nick believes that the impact of maritime decarbonization will take years to actually be felt, but that it's going to be world-altering, and how areas like the maritime legal frameworks need to follow.
- With all of the advancements and the new way of thinking that's been happening in the maritime industry over the last handful of years, a couple of big initiatives is decarbonization and sustainability. Coming from the shipping industry it sounds like some of these datasets, these new tools, this technology that's coming into the space - how is it affecting those goals as well? Is it helping, is it kind of conflicting, or is it maybe a little bit of both?
- It's helping, and it definitely has an important role to play, but probably not enough. So i don't know when this goes out, but at the time of recording last week the International Maritime Organization announced new goals, and the beginning of a new strategy for greenhouse gas emissions getting to net zero. So there are now goals in place for 2030, 2040 and 2050 to reduce emissions, which is a big step forward on what we had before. It's still fairly weakly worded, I guess I could say being polite, it's very diplomatically worded, and there's a lot of get-outs available for it, but there is a clear commitment from international regulators that we we need to decarbonize the industry. And i think the big problem that very few people really realize is actually how long it can take to create new fuel infrastructure. So, do you remember leaded petrol in cars?
- Oh the movie "Cars"? Like, the Disney movie "Cars"?
- No, just in normal cars, right? The listeners might remember petrol having lead in it.
- Oh okay, oh - unleaded versus leaded - okay, that makes sense,
- Do you know how long it took from realizing that lead was poisonous to actually taking lead out of the global fuel supply chain?
- No, tell us.
- 97 years.
- Oh my gosh.
- So, the link was first made back in the 1920s, and lead was finally kind of banned in most of Europe and North America through into the 90s, but the last leaded fuel pump actually switched off in 2019 - it was in Algeria.
- Oh wow.
- It finally ran out of the stuff. That's just one fuel additive in automotive fuel and it took nearly a century to take it out of the supply chain, and we're talking about changing, not just the maritime industries', but all of the energy industries' fuel systems, fuel supply chain. And unfortunately it's going to take some time. And so the question we need to ask ourselves is, actually, what can we do today to ideally peak and then start to reduce emissions, all of that, in the short term, has to be found in optimization. So how do we improve the ton mile efficiency of the global fleet? And that kind of brings us back to questions about AI, what are the things that we're leaving on the table in terms of energy that we could be optimizing for? Lots of really cool AI-driven systems and big data systems that are sort of coming onto the market that can help support to answer those questions.
- Is it safe to say that that's one of the more exciting AI innovations that's going on in the space, or are there others that we should be paying attention to as well?
- I think it's one of the more important ones definitely, because as well as the climate argument, which is obviously very important, there's also a financial argument, if you can use ai to optimize the the way the ship runs you're going to save fuel, which means you're going to save money as well as saving emissions. But as i say, kind of looking more to the shoreside, all of those kind of shoreside operations I think is actually where AI starts to get really exciting. Take maritime law, for example. We're not there yet, or I've not seen it happen, but it's a hugely complex area that takes years of training to become a a lawyer that specializes in the maritime space. Actually, what can happen, if we take a large language model and feed it the right case law and the right understanding of laws, can we reduce the amount of time and money that we need to be spending with with lawyers when there's a dispute on related to a maritime issue? Marine insurance is very similar as well, there's a huge amount of inefficiency in how insurance is distributed, how claims are handled, how claims are paid out, accident investigations, there's all sorts of things that you could look at that could have a big impact. As i say, they're not normally to do with the ship, it's all of the business stuff that exists around the industry.
- Yeah, even on a previous episode of Maritime Means we talked with a guest about just optimizing the waiting times in order to bring a ship to berth - to call the port, I think, is the right phrase to use?
- Yeah, for a port call.
- Yeah, for a port call, yes. But he was talking about how that is so inefficient right now, and if you could optimize whatever port that you decide to go to, based on a lesser amount of waiting time, then that could save on fuel costs, it could save on a lot of the crew times, and things like that. So i think what you're talking about with the AI aspects that are happening closer to shore, these tools can only help that decision making process be more efficient, help the environment, and then also save some money which, if you can hit on all those three things, I think that's a home run.
- Yeah, the big problem that the industry has is that it's not just a question of technology, it's also a question of the contractual relationships that exist between different stakeholders. So generally a ship will be chartered by a cargo owner, and as part of that agreement, and it's a template agreement that we've had for hundreds of years, the ship owner will have to get the ship to the port at a certain time and that's their contractual agreement, that they've agreed to. If the port's not ready to accept them, that's not the ship owner's problem, it's not the charterer's problem, it's the port's problem. So what happens is, ships go really fast to get to a port on time, and then when they get to the port there's basically a traffic jam, and they have to anchor and wait sometimes for days, we've seen around the port of LA sometimes even weeks of container ship congestion happening. There's a really cool startup - it's actually a not-for-profit called Blue Visby that's worth looking at - and what they've done is they've taken an algorithm - they've taken a dataset, an algorithm and then also a charter party agreement and they've changed that contractual arrangement so that, if the algorithm says the ship should slow down, that the ship owner's kind of legally protected, and in some cases rewarded, for actually slowing the ship down and reducing the emissions rather than having this kind of hurry up and wait scenario. And where they've run simulations, they've seen that, over the course of a hundred thousand voyages, they've seen emission savings of up to 15% just based on optimizing that arrival time and making sure the right legal contracts are in place to make it possible.
- I mean, 15% has to have a dramatic effect on the bottom line, I would imagine?
- Yeah 100%, for everyone involved.
- Right? And that'll ultimately maybe, possibly trickle down to the consumer side of things, where it makes products a little bit more affordable to buy, especially in the current market of what we're experiencing globally where everything is experiencing inflation, so if we could have a little bit of a break I think a lot of folks would applaud that effort.
Marketing to maritime
We talk about the marketing side of things - how Thetius is using industry and technology content to tie with the business side of things.
- Now, one aspect of your company that I wanted to ask you about is not just the research side of things, but also from the promotion side of things, because you guys have started sending out a weekly newsletter that has quickly become one of my favorites. I think it was a few issues ago, there was a story in your newsletter about how ship manufacturers are creating a different propeller system for the ships, in order to decrease the amount of interference that was affecting whale migration patterns. From a marketing perspective, how are you using some of that content for those emails, to promote your research side of things? Is there a correlation, or is it simply just finding a cool story that's related to maritime and sharing it with the audience?
- Shameless plug: go to thetius.com and sign up for the Thetius tech brief, it's got a lot better since i stopped writing it and I'll make sure that's Fiona who does write it. This podcast, I think it's excellent, and i think she does a brilliant job of essentially trying to take what's cutting edge and cool and going on, not just in maritime but in the wider tech world, and then how does that relate back to the industry and what kind of lessons can we learn from it. And so it ends up covering all sorts of weird and wonderful things. What we tend to find is that, from a marketing standpoint, it helps us. I didn't even know you read it, I have to admit, but it helps us be top of mind for people, and often there is a tie back to some of our, either premium subscription research, or reports that we want to publish in partnership with people. We try to cover the kind of big topics, like decarbonization, like AI, like safety and improving profitability the industry, all of that sort of stuff. I'm glad to hear you enjoy it because it's really good fun to produce.
- Yeah it's super interesting. Based on doing this podcast series, "Maritime means", and then also with the other podcasts I produce, it's one of those things that you just keep running into, over and over again, is these silos that exist in all of logistics, all of supply chain, and so I think when you can take stories like the sonars, and whale migration patterns, and ship building, when you can tie all of that together it makes it super relatable. It also drives the interest for some of those premium datasets, the premium research papers, technology and embracing what real world impacts that some of these these insights can really shine a light on, and so I found it really interesting. It was kind of the catalyst for getting you on the show, so thanks to Fiona for putting those together. Now, when it comes to some of your research reports, what makes you decide on what topic to cover? Is it essentially just instant reader feedback? Give us a little bit of the behind the scenes insight on how you decide to come up with different research reports and what to study.
- We're driven almost entirely by customer requests, so we have on our intelligence platform, if you're interested in a particular topic, it might be maritime connectivity, satellite connectivity, it might be carbon capture, and storage, we've just done something on that, and you have the ability to literally submit a research request so you can near enough - as long as it's related to commercial maritime and it's related to emerging technology, then it's kind of within our remit and and we'll go away and produce something on it. So we have this huge backlog of research topics that is partly driven by the data that we have available, but mainly it's by what customers are asking for, and then we just work our way through them based on what's being requested.
- How long does it typically take to produce one of those reports?
- It's a good question. If we've got the data, a week, two weeks, okay? And if we don't have the data it can take a bit longer. But we've got a pretty good dataset now, we've been collecting data for four years, we're actively tracking something like three and a half thousand maritime technology developers and sort of seeing what they're building, seeing what patterns they're registering, registering all that sort of stuff, and then we're actively tracking things like contract awards, and partnerships. So usually when someone comes to us and says, you know, "how popular is ammonia as a as an alternative fuel?", we can pull up a data set that'll help us to answer that pretty quickly.
Innovations and working in maritime
Nick goes into the innovations that he's the most excited about for the coming years in maritime, and his advice for people looking to enter the industry and combine it with tech.
- That's super interesting and so, as we kind of wrap up this interview, what innovations get you excited of what's happening now or maybe possibly down the line in the future for maritime?
- I think if we talk about decarbonization, the exciting thing about it is that historically, if you look back, it's going to be as important as the industrial revolution was 100 years ago. It's one of the biggest transformations not just for maritime but for all of society, our entire energy production storage and consumption model has to completely transform and we've got about 30 years to do it. So there's like the biggest economic opportunity that has ever existed, and the really exciting part of that is that it's day zero for everyone, no one knows how to do it, we're all kind of trying to work it out as we go, and so that that kind of creates this amazing path for innovators, for startups, for small businesses to be able to come in and have a really big impact. And so I get really excited about decarbonization-related stuff, both how software and AI is actually helping us to make better decisions and optimize, but also what are the fuels of the future going to be, and how do we make sure we quickly build the infrastructure that will enable ships to to sail alongside the whole world economy that's going to have to switch to a new operating model. It's both super exciting but also really terrifying.
- Well it's big problems to solve and I think that's where the the greatest challenges in life come from, is trying to work together as a collective unit to solve some of these big complex problems. And so, as someone who has been on the front lines of being a merchant mariner, working in the ship, and then someone who has been on the front lines of seeing this emerging technologies taking place all throughout the industry, what advice would you give to somebody that's looking to enter the maritime industry?
- I would say do it. First off, it's a really, really cool industry. Some people say that maritime isn't sexy, isn't exciting space, but you know, we move 90% of everything that's traded in the world, and the other 10% relies on maritime in their kind of secondary and tertiary supply chains, so if you take maritime out of the equation everything shuts down. Half the world would freeze, the other half would starve, and so I'm biased obviously, but I think it's the most important industry in the world. So that first call to action is just go and do it and get involved. I would say there's absolutely no replacement for going and getting operational experience, so whether that's in a port or on a ship, actually seeing how this stuff works, how we get goods in and out of countries safely and really, really efficiently is an incredible thing to see. And it's an even more incredible thing to to learn about, so do it, get some operational experience but don't feel you have to stay at sea for 10, 15, 20, 25 years, or in a port for 10, 15, 20 years. As soon as you can, get into the tech world, because that's where the really fun stuff is happening. So start in operations and then get into tech and so see where the the problems are at, and then see how tech can can solve a lot of those problems.
- All right Nick, is there anything that we didn't talk about during this interview that you think is really important to mention?
- No, I don't think so, other than I'll come in with another shameless plug. Head over to thetius.com, sign up for the brief, if you're a startup or small business we often run open innovation challenges and so, and we're particularly focused on decarbonization at the moment. So if you sign up to the brief you'll get notified of those challenges when they come live. And we work with some really cool companies, big ship owners and ports who are trying to solve decarbonization problems, obviously. If you're in the space looking for technology head over to the website and there's a ton of free information out there for you that we produce. And yeah, obviously I'm biased, but I think it's pretty good.
- And sign up for that newsletter too.
- Yeah, at the very least sign up for the newsletter, you can learn about some cool stories that are going on in maritime.
- All right Nick, well, that about does it for this episode, thank you so much for for joining the show and we look forward to watching more of the research reports and the insights that come out of your company.
- Thanks guys, really appreciate it.