Charting the Course: Predicting the Ocean Freight Market’s Trajectory
22 March 2024

Charting the Course: Predicting the Ocean Freight Market’s Trajectory

Our world has fully embraced the era of the fourth industrial revolution, marked by the integration of artificial intelligence and higher degrees of automation across all industries. This digital transformation spares no sector, including maritime transport, which undergoes profound changes amidst rapid technological advancements. With the imminent fifth industrial revolution, driven by climate urgency and the need to make maritime transport a player in energy transition, predicting the landscape until 2030 involves some risk. While precise outcomes remain uncertain, discernible trends and potential risks are emerging.

In the crystal ball of our experience and expertise in maritime management spanning over sixty years, this white paper aims to assist you in navigating this dynamic and sometimes challenging environment while keeping a clear course to better understand what the future holds.



Approximately 80% of physical goods exchange flows pass through maritime transport. The transportation sector accounts for nearly a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, and with emissions projected to double by 2050, urgent measures are needed. The ecological question is the primary trend that maritime transport, as well as its clients, must address. It is integral to the carbon footprint of a product, increasingly concerning end customers, both professional and individual. Companies must consider environmental impacts throughout a product’s life cycle to reduce energy consumption, produce more efficiently, and find ways to mitigate the environmental impact associated with maritime transport.

By 2030 and beyond, ecological concerns are both evident and complex. Decarbonising maritime transport is the top priority, influencing aspects like vessel transformation, exploration of new maritime routes, changes in sourcing policies, and the convergence of production and consumption locations.

Today, two solutions are frequently discussed within the current maritime ecosystem: a significant reduction in vessel speeds, which could disrupt international logistics chains profoundly, and the use of less polluting fuels, like liquefied natural gas (LNG), limiting harmful atmospheric emissions. The European Commission aims to gradually eliminate fossil fuels in favor of adopting green fuels, providing flexibility to shipowners and fleet operators. The clear objective outlined in the European Union’s climate roadmap is a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. This necessitates a radical evolution in maritime transport to meet market demands, become more competitive and profitable, all while being influenced by global trends, technological advancements, and fuel innovations.

What is the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of a product?

LCA is a step-by-step evaluation method that audits all stages of a product’s life cycle, from raw material extraction to manufacturing, distribution, use, collection, and disposal in end-of-life channels. It is a comprehensive process that provides insights into the environmental impacts of a product.


Sail-Powered Ships:

Renewable energies, particularly wind energy, could play a significant role in decarbonising maritime transport. Wind power could lead to a 20-40% fuel consumption reduction, lowering fuel costs and greenhouse gas emissions. The European Union estimates that 15% of the global commercial fleet will be partially wind-powered by 2030, with the UK predicting 45% by 2050. Various innovations, such as kites, rigid sails, soft sails, and suction wings, are expected to become more common on future ships by the end of the decade.


Evolving Ships:

Ship operations and performance monitoring technology have continually improved. Future vessels will feature a comprehensive sensor network to measure all aspects of operations, including defect detection and identification of areas requiring maintenance or repair. With increasingly powerful ship-to-shore communications, most ship operations can be controlled by onshore fleet management teams. Embracing the Internet of Things (IoT) technological revolution will connect ships, ports, containers, and goods to gather more data for making informed decisions.


However, the digitalisation of maritime transport comes with a growing risk of cyber attacks. The 2018 NotPetya malware attacks disrupted critical systems of Maersk, resulting in losses of $250 to $300 million. The future of maritime transport necessitates a focus on digital security professionalism due to the close interconnection of ships, ports, cargo owners, and various stakeholders.


Larger Ships:

Emulating the A380’s strategy in the maritime industry involves building larger vessels for more cost-effective transport. Currently, the Ever Apex holds the title of the world’s largest container ship, with a capacity exceeding 24,000 TEUs (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units). Leveraging the cost-saving potential of these giant vessels requires rethinking some commercial routes and canal crossings to use their space most efficiently.


Optimised Ships:

Achieving more ecological maritime transport also requires redefining construction techniques. Pressured to reduce the carbon footprint of maritime fleets, numerous technologies are under consideration, such as streamlined hulls, more efficient propellers, better trip planning to save fuel, and improved hull coatings. Fuel choice plays a crucial role, with increasing interest in LNG due to its potential to help operators meet emission reduction targets while remaining competitive in terms of cost. Other fuels, including ammonia, methanol, and biofuels, are also under consideration. Maritime carriers are obligated to invest in greening their fleets to comply with the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) Low Sulphur regulation, effective since January 1, 2020, and strengthened by the 2023 regulations imposing further greenhouse gas reductions.


Shifting Sourcing Dynamics:

Global economic interconnectivity and the proliferation of international trade agreements have reduced import tariffs, administrative formalities, and, in some global regions, corruption, while facilitating the movement of goods. However, recent years have witnessed strong protectionist movements involving countries that were previously champions of free trade and reduced trade barriers. In this context, the future of maritime transport will also undergo sourcing evolution with new models likely to emerge and evolve.

Relocation in Dots:

Behind the façade of globalisation, a new reality highlights our dependence on China for suddenly strategic production. The repatriation of production could secure supplies, revitalise national industrial fabric, and decrease carbon emissions associated with goods transport. Relocation is a subject that intertwines political and economic dimensions, often brought into focus by international events, questioning the robustness of a global value chain previously considered indestructible.

Various international events, from the 9/11 attacks and the Fukushima disaster to the Arab Spring, the Suez Canal blockage, tensions between China and the United States, and the Russia-Ukraine war, have cast doubts on the resilience of a global value chain once deemed unassailable. Relocated production may be perceived as slow and less responsive. Distance implies longer timelines and delays in decision-making. It also poses higher risks of overproduction due to mass production. However, considering surplus, unsold goods, storage, and disposal costs, the question of relocations in France and Europe will continue to be raised and widely publicised but is unlikely to become the norm.

Nearshoring: Bridging Production and Consumption:

Among options reshaping future sourcing and maritime transport is nearshoring. This model involves bringing production closer to the point of consumption without necessarily relocating to the final country. For example, a French company that previously outsourced to China might reintroduce some or all of its production to Morocco. Nearshoring brings back a sense of proximity to decision-making and the market while maintaining control over the production process. It also reduces transit times, transportation costs, and overall environmental impact.

Containerisation: Revolution or Evolution?

Containerisation revolutionised maritime transport in the mid-20th century by standardising cargo handling, reducing transportation costs, and accelerating turnaround times. Decades later, the container remains the backbone of maritime logistics. Still, changes are afoot. The post-World War II era has seen significant shifts in container design, size, and technology, but the fundamental principles of containerisation remain unchanged. The notion of revolution or evolution in containerisation is an ongoing debate. Does the industry need a radical shift, or are incremental improvements sufficient?

While some argue that the traditional container design may limit efficiency and present challenges for certain cargo types, others believe that containerisation, combined with technological advancements and smart port solutions, remains the most efficient and reliable method for global cargo transportation. Innovations such as smart containers equipped with sensors and tracking devices, blockchain-based systems for supply chain transparency, and automated container handling at ports enhance the efficiency and security of containerised shipping. In the foreseeable future, the industry might witness a hybrid approach, combining the strengths of containerisation with technological innovations to address evolving challenges.


Climate Urgency and Regulatory Compliance:

The urgency of climate change mitigation has prompted stringent regulations in the maritime industry. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has set ambitious targets, including reducing the carbon intensity of shipping by 40% by 2030 and achieving a 50% reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 compared to 2008 levels. Meeting these targets requires significant changes in ship design, propulsion systems, and fuel sources.

Shipowners and operators face the challenge of investing in sustainable technologies while remaining economically viable. The transition to cleaner fuels, adoption of energy-efficient technologies, and implementation of operational measures to optimise fuel consumption all contribute to the industry’s response to climate urgency. While these changes involve substantial upfront costs, they also present opportunities for innovation, collaboration, and market differentiation.

Digitalisation and Cybersecurity:

The maritime industry’s increasing reliance on digital technologies brings unprecedented opportunities for efficiency, safety, and environmental sustainability. From autonomous vessels to blockchain-based supply chain solutions, digitalisation promises transformative benefits. However, this technological leap forward also exposes the industry to cybersecurity risks.

The interconnected nature of maritime systems, including navigation, communication, and cargo management, creates vulnerabilities that malicious actors may exploit. Cybersecurity threats pose risks to vessel safety, cargo security, and the overall resilience of maritime operations. As the industry embraces digitalisation, investing in robust cybersecurity measures becomes imperative. Training maritime professionals in cybersecurity best practices, implementing secure communication protocols, and developing resilient systems are essential steps in safeguarding the industry against cyber threats.

Geopolitical Tensions and Trade Routes:

Geopolitical tensions have a direct impact on global trade and maritime transport. Trade routes, particularly key chokepoints and strategic waterways, become focal points of geopolitical maneuvering. Tensions between major powers can result in disruptions to shipping lanes, affecting the flow of goods and increasing shipping costs.

Recent examples include the Suez Canal blockage in 2021, which highlighted the vulnerability of critical maritime infrastructure, and tensions in the South China Sea, where territorial disputes have implications for regional and global trade. The maritime industry must navigate geopolitical uncertainties, diversify trade routes where possible, and adapt to changing geopolitical dynamics.

The Human Element and Workforce Challenges:

Amidst technological advancements and automation, the human element remains a crucial factor in maritime operations. The industry faces a dual challenge: attracting and retaining skilled professionals while preparing the workforce for the digital future. Seafarers, ship engineers, and shore-based personnel must acquire new skills to operate and manage technologically advanced vessels and systems.

Automation and autonomy offer benefits in terms of safety and operational efficiency, but they also raise concerns about job displacement. Balancing the integration of automation with the preservation of maritime jobs requires proactive workforce development strategies, training programs, and collaboration between industry stakeholders, educational institutions, and policymakers.


As the maritime transport industry charts its course towards 2030 and beyond, it grapples with a complex web of challenges and opportunities. The imperative to address climate urgency reshapes the industry’s approach to sustainability, driving innovations in propulsion systems, fuel choices, and vessel design. Digitalisation promises efficiency gains but demands vigilant cybersecurity measures to safeguard critical maritime infrastructure.

Geopolitical tensions underscore the need for resilience and adaptability, prompting the industry to diversify trade routes and navigate uncertainties. The human element remains integral, necessitating a strategic focus on workforce development to align with the digital future. Ultimately, the future of maritime transport lies at the intersection of environmental responsibility, technological innovation, geopolitical realities, and the human expertise that propels the industry forward.

In this evolving landscape, stakeholders across the maritime ecosystem—from shipowners and operators to policymakers, port authorities, and industry associations—must collaborate to shape a sustainable and resilient future for maritime transport. By embracing innovation, addressing challenges proactively, and fostering a holistic approach to industry transformation, the maritime sector can navigate the seas of change with confidence and purpose.