Japanese Shipping Line Develops Digital Cash for Crew

(Bloomberg) -- Nippon Yusen K.K., Japan’s largest shipping line by sales, is introducing its own digital currency for crew members, people with knowledge of the matter said.

The goal is to make it easier for seafaring workers to manage, send and convert money into their local currencies, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the plan isn’t public yet. The shipper is developing its own digital cash, pegged to the U.S. dollar to avoid wild swings in value. It wasn’t clear whether it would use blockchain, or be a cryptocurrency variant.

Most sea crew are usually paid in cash or have their pay transferred into a bank account. Because they hail from multiple nations and often have to move money from one country to another, digital cash offers the possibility of making it easier for them to track and spend their incomes. Yusen’s initiative, which will use smartphones, is on track to debut in the first half of 2019, the people said.

Yusen is working with banks and software developers to make sure that its digital money can be converted into local currencies, the people said. Tests using shipboard telecommunications, such as satellites, have been successful, and the shipper is seeking a patent for its technology, one person said. The Tokyo-based company is also interested in turning it into a service that it can offer to other shippers as well, the people said.

Yusen owns or controls about 800 ships, each with about 20 to 23 crew. Each vessel usually has about $40,000 to $60,000 aboard to cover salaries and cash-based expenses. A majority of the seafaring workers for Japanese shippers is Filipino or Chinese, according to data from Japan’s transport ministry.

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