Interview with Erik Witjens on the added value of ongoing digitalisation to maritime security

Recently out member, Erik Witjens of Libertas Advocaten, was interviewed by Rotterdam Maritime Capital of Europe. During the interview he was asked to share his perspective on how Rotterdam and the surrounding business areas deal with maritime security. And the added value of this topic to the position of the region as maritime capital or Europe.

Erik, can you tell us more about maritime security in relation to your business as a lawyer?

“The port operations in Rotterdam and surrounding business areas are set up in a competent and efficient manner. Accompanied by professional port authorities who know the industry well. This well-organised cooperation among industry partners and the authorities adds to the regional maritime safety. Furthermore, available and reliable data; transparency about applicable rules and regulations; clarity about which systems to use, sound processes, and accessible authorities aid to improve maritime safety and security in the ports of Rotterdam and connected regions even more.

The Dutch maritime industry has a keen eye for developing innovative digital solutions. Besides focussing on improving production or logistical processes, this mindset is also applied to shipping and port operations. Take the Port Community System by Portbase for example. This service connects all parties in the logistics of the Dutch ports. It facilitates data sharing between companies and information exchange with governments in order to work faster, more efficiently and at lower costs.

Such digitalisation at operational levels help to improve reliability and efficiency but also to decrease the error rate in the maritime industry. However, adversities are still a fact of life. And when they do occur, clients require the expertise of my colleagues or myself. Because of the ongoing digitalisation data is readily available. Which helps with accurate factfinding and – if applicable – establishing accountability of the culpable party. Thus preventing unnecessary proceedings and legal battles.”

Which opportunities do you see in the foreseeable future?

“Currently the impact of digitalisation on legislation is being explored by various trade associations, knowledge institutions and authorities. The reason for this exploration is that most rules and regulations in my field of expertise are primarily focused on operational aspects of the industry. The course towards autonomous shipping for instance calls for new legislation or new interpretations of existing regulations. Fortunately there is a lot of room for experiments and innovation on this topic in Rotterdam. I am happy to see that the Erasmus University, STC-Group, the Port of Rotterdam and the municipality of Rotterdam are  involved in facilitating practical applied academic research. This is invaluable to establish what kind of legislation and standards are needed to make autonomous shipping feasible, safe and secure. For instance, February of 2020 saw the second Cyber Security Seminar hosted by the Rotterdam Maritime Services Community and the Erasmus University. In the near future, seaworthiness of any ship not sufficiently safeguarded against cyber security threats will be up for debate. Rotterdam has a strong track record when it comes to designing and building efficient maritime systems and passing it on to the market. I am certain that the trend towards autonomous shipping will create various opportunities for a large part of the maritime industry and value chain.”

How can the network of Rotterdam Maritime Capital of Europe help to capitalise these opportunities?

“One of the added values of networks like these is that they increase connections and relationships between (regional) industry partners. This makes it easier for all parties to stay up to date on technological developments and innovations for example. If you are aware of current developments you will also be able to spot opportunities and when possible participate. Maybe even paving the way for cross-fertilisation between various innovative projects. This leads to marketable (digital) innovations that can be capitalised. From my own perspective I see that challenges that my clients face in their businesses, more often than not can be addressed through the innovative use of technology. It also helps that inspectorate bodies are welcoming to such developments as well. Regarding opportunities connected to autonomous shipping, the network certainly helps me to prepare our company’s strategy to finetune our services to be futureproof. This mindset also applies to many of the other maritime business services providers that I regularly meet within the Rotterdam Maritime Services Community. In brief, the network aids in knowledge and information sharing, creating synergy between various maritime sectors.”


Rotterdam Maritime Capital - Rotterdam Maritime Services Community - RMSC