i4sea: Redefining the Benchmarks of Maritime Innovation

Bruno Balbi | Founder & CEO | i4sea

I am the vessel. The draft is God’s. And God is the thirsty one.

Dag Hammarskjöld, the charismatic second Secretary General of the United Nations did not have shipping in mind when he quoted this line. But what he said makes apt sense for the shipping industry. Draft i.e. the minimum clear water between a ship’s keel and the sea (or ocean) is a necessity to keep a ship afloat.

With the required clearance available, ships can pass through while carrying their full load. More the draft, better the vessel’s carrying capacities and more the shipping company’s earnings. Lesser the draft, lower the load that a ship can carry, and consequently, lower earnings. Worse, in unchartered waters, ships always run the risk of running aground, a situation not entirely unheard-of in shipping lore with places likes the English Channel being a prime example.

To give the shipping industry worldwide a much-needed breather to carry on its operations efficiently, i4sea came about in the year 2015. Founder and CEO, Bruno Balbi and co-founders Mateus Lima and Dr. Davi Mignac were aware of the draft-related problems faced by ships while in ports from their past experiences in Preamar Gestão Costeira, a consulting company founded in 2013 that dealt with environmental studies and assessments for the maritime industry.

Interacting with the industry, they distinctly felt the absence of sustained high-quality weather and oceanographic information leading to an adverse impact on the safety and efficiency of vessel operations in ports worldwide.

In the half-a-decade of its existence, using a mix of consistent methodologies and technology including AI, i4cast® today helps predict dynamic weather conditions and under-sea environment up to seven days in advance. It also helps map the best time-windows and optimal drafts for ships entering or leaving specific ports.

CEO Bruno Balbi, an Oceanographer and coastal management specialist who also holds an MBA degree in Business Management and Leadership from the Getúlio Vargas Foundation – Brasil, University of Central Missouri and Sullivan University – EUA, says that they have found this stream so lucrative that it pulled the shutters down on their consultancy business and they have since then focused all their time and energies on developing, validating and pitching the i4cast® platform to parties worldwide.

Exhibiting Excellence

i4cast® uses software assisted by numerical models, data analytics and machine learning techniques to forecast and manage the influence of weather, ocean, and ship dynamics on vessel operations around port terminals. The outcome is the creation of optimal berthing windows of up to 7 days in advance for vessels entering or leaving a specific port. Doing so has reduced the scope of guesswork and scepticism and instead, helped identify opportunities where vessels can safely load more cargo, and economize their operations and management.

Just a couple of years in business, and the results are already encouraging with some of their clients’ vessels witnessing an additional draft of 1 meter. This translates into an increase in cargo loading per vessel of not less than 9000 tons or 600 TEUs. It has positively affected port-side operations with a 5x increase in berth availability for safe operations!

“We have identified in i4cast® solid opportunities for optimizing the terminal operations and an important contribution to navigation control and safety. Initial ongoing studies are critical for stakeholders to know the potential of the tools and how they can be employed as part of the port management processes,” says Heli Fernandes of CSN.

Of special mention is the use of AI. Shipping, be it plying the seas or berthing at ports for loading or unloading, is a matter of concern for human and environmental safety besides efficient operations which help reduce costs, increase incomes and keep things in motion for the longest of time. AI and bigdata between themselves have helped the industry find predictable and dependable information which has been helping them run their operations efficiently and smoothly.

“The system developed by i4sea is an important ally in optimizing Açu Petróleo’s oil terminal (T-oil) operations planning, ensuring the full usage of our capacity, a constant interaction with the other actors of Port of Açu, and mainly the safety of the manoeuvres of our vessels,” adds Mauricio Zannin, COO at Acú Petróleo.

Leonardo Belitardo of Tecon Salvador’s experience with i4cast® is quite telling. He says “I4sea’s technology, coupled with well-structured processes, offers more predictability and safety to Tecon’s docking and undocking operations. i4cast® is a tool that is constantly evolving.”

Voyaging New Horizons

Owning their entire existence to constant research, Bruno Balbi says of the future that they plan to implement new techniques for increasingly more accurate and scalable forecasts, as also develop new management tools for port-operations that help planners at ports worldwide take better tactical decisions in the light of reliable information that increase productivity and profitability in equal measures.

Additionally, according to him, modules in their software now calculate the potential benefits of i4cast® to client operations to give the latter a sense of the value of their investment in i4cast®.

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