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North East ports riding the wave of digital innovation that will bring global benefits

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Ahead of the “Discover the Possibilities: Into the Blue conference of the 28th March in Sunderland, Operations Director for Red Funnel Ferries, Mark Slawson OBE gives his thoughts on how businesses utilising the power of satellite data can take advantage of the wealth of opportunities of the growing ocean economy set to double in size to $3 trillion globally by 2030.

“North East ports have played an important role in maritime and economic history, so it is very exciting to see them pushing the digital technology frontiers of the future.

As an island nation, where nowhere is more than 70 miles from the sea, every part of the country is affected by what happens at ports. They handle the vast majority of trade in goods, from food and clothes to cars and consumer products, and although air transport has a role to play, it can never replace shipping.

There are hundreds of ports around our coast, of different sizes and with different specialisms, such as leisure, tourism, ferries, cargo and containers.

This mix is reflected by the diversity of ports taking part in the Smart Port North East Testbed initiative: Port of Berwick, Port of Blyth, Port of Sunderland, Teesport, and Port of Tyne.

I am delighted to be chairing a panel discussion of port representatives at the North East Satellite Applications Centre of Excellence Discover the Possibilities conference in Sunderland in March and hearing more about the work they are doing on issues such as interacting with their hinterland, renewable energy, logistics, efficiency, safety and security.

As an inshore operator running ferries between Southampton and the Isle of Wight, my own company, Red Funnel, has a keen interest in seeing how communications technology, whether it relies directly on satellites or uses wi-fi, 4G or 5G, can provide us with e-navigation systems and give us accurate weather and tide data.

Using state-of-the-art communications to link sensors and employing tools such as artificial intelligence will create new opportunities in situational awareness and open new ways of tracking freight, monitoring borders, guarding against terrorism and managing road traffic around ports. The more data we have, the more useful it becomes as management information on which we can make decisions.

Whatever the outcome of Brexit, the demands on our ports are growing, to ensure our food is fresh, to keep factories running through just-in-time supply chains and to protect our environment.

In the past, the maritime industry has been slow to change and often has done so only in response to events. It took the Titanic to trigger a major improvement in safety at sea regulations.

That is no longer the case and the North East Smart Port Testbed shows how we can make the most of new technology and lead the way in innovation that will have benefits not just in the North East or the UK, but across the world.”

Mark Slawson, Operations Director, Red Funnel

Engage with businesses and key influences in the sector, learn exactly how your business could fit into the ocean economy’s landscape, and make connections that could turn the tide in your business. Book your place at our “Discover the Possibilities” conference taking place Thursday 28th March at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland.

Book your place today by visiting

The North East Satellite Applications Centre of Excellence offers opportunities and partnerships to unlock market opportunities within the North East of the UK which will benefit local and national economies.