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Cruise industry figures weigh up using AI at ports during Seatrade Europe

PHOTO: FREDERIK ERDMANN cruise_biometrics.jpg
L-R: Ian Richardson, Barbara Buczek, Matthew Ducharme, Fereshta Yazdani, Aziz Gungor talking biometrics on September 6
Biometrics could lead to greater productivity and passenger satisfaction, in addition to making port processes more secure, but the cost could be ‘considerable.’  

Growing passenger volumes travelling on larger ships and increased biometric requirements are currently a challenge to cruise ports. However, the use of smart technologies, along with standardisation of handling processes and the 'purposeful' involvement of passengers, are key to avoiding bottlenecks. Aziz Gungor, regional director East Med & GM, Global Ports Holding & Ege Port Kuşadası, Barbara Buczek, chief asset management & operations officer, Cruise Saudi, Fereshta Yazdani, consultant, Maritime Solutions LHIND and Matthew Ducharme, manager, port services EMEA, Royal Caribbean Group made this conclusion during the ‘Smart Ports & Biometrics: How is Tech Improving Embarkation & Security?’ panel which took place yesterday at Seatrade Cruise Europe, Hamburg (September 6-8.)  

The four made it clear that getting customer consent is crucial on the road towards using biometrics, and that staff should possess ultimate authority  even if artificial intelligence is increasingly supporting handling processes.  

High investment – but better productivity and passenger satisfaction 

If considering making ports smarter and adopting biometrics, the panel suggested liaising with local staff at any early stage and sharing best practices.

Buczek highlighted the importance of involving local authorities while respecting their requirements. ‘We will not get away from security needs,’ she said, claiming the objective should be to combine fulfilling security needs with smooth operations. Investment volumes required for a 'tech port' will be considerable, but contribute to a more productive operation, enhanced security and greater passenger satisfaction. Yazdani emphasised the latter point in particular, claiming passengers have become more sensitive about the value of their time since the pandemic. Easy, rapid port processes would be considered a gain of quality time ‘and quality comes at a cost,’ concluded Yazdani.

Different cruise line standards call for flexibility

An important message of Wednesday's session was that the great diversity of standards defined by various cruise lines is making it difficult for port operators to invest in new technology. Ducharme suggested that at least a certain degree of uniformity should be adopted and respective lessons learnt from airports. The Royal Caribbean Group port services manager advocated for 'generalities' to be defined as industry standards for the benefit of more streamlined port operations and development.

Buczek argued in favour of a degree of standardisation, using luggage handling as an example: while cruise lines maintain a great variety of standards, the uniformed procedures adopted in aviation hold major advantages for airports, she said. But while standards are necessary and helpful, Gungor said that different regulatory, as well as different cultural approaches and perceptions, still requires some flexibility. He referred to the ISPS Code plus GPH’s own in-house Security Code which have helped to establish a uniformed framework for security issues. Within this framework the company allows its 27 cruise ports to implement the Codes with a certain degree of flexibility in order to meet ports’ specific local needs.  

Passengers and biometrics

To optimise processes in port, Ducharme suggested passengers should be encouraged to register as much of the data required before arrival, allowing check-in at the port to be based on a simpler procedure of verifying information supplied in advance.

There are, however, challenges and limits: Firstly, many passengers continue to be concerned about the issues of data ownership and data transfer to third parties (such as authorities in ports of call, etc.), as well as the potential misuse of their biometric data by unauthorised parties.

In addition to these concerns, some passengers lack the technical means, such as a mobile phone, to be able to register biometric data.

Gungor stressed that passengers should be offered the choice to opt out of using biometrics, stating, ‘Getting the consent of the passengers is crucial.’

AI supporting staff  

Using queue management as an example, Yazdani outlined the advantages of AI-powered camera systems: passenger flow at a terminal can be monitored autonomously, with alert messages automatically generated to inform staff when more capacity is needed at the security check. This can happen through push messages sent to the mobile phones of on-site staff who are no longer required to visually monitor the passenger flow.

Yazdani made it clear that AI should not replace people, but rather support them, with ultimate decisions always taken by staff.