The smart way for owners and managers to cut down their costs

As a flurry of big data and high-speed bandwidth technology is fitted to the global fleet, a group of internet specialists has produced a series of cutting edge platforms and portals to improve performance and combat fraud

Frustrated owners and managers struggling to find foolproof formulas and canny ways to shave their start-of-the-year costs, improve their vessels’ ship-to-shore connectivity and protect their online networks from cyber fraud have suddenly been rewarded with a clutch of next generation solutions.

Let’s start with a multi-purpose product with an academic-sounding name – Thesis. The online platform was launched by IT specialists Transas at the end of 2016 and combines vessel monitoring, traffic control, vessel handling technology, connectivity, vessel performance optimisation and training. A typical example would be an owner whose vessel has been involved in a complex offshore operation being able to download details of the ship’s movements onto an onshore network and then use the data to help train seafarers doing similar exercises.

“Thesis provides a platform for unprecedented collaboration and knowledge sharing which, as vessels grow more complex, will become an evermore crucial way of working. Investing in connectivity is a relatively cost effective way of attracting and retaining high calibre crews. Besides offering a satisfying diversion during off-duty hours to help maintain morale, that same connection can equally be employed for delivering training and facilitating the professional development of crews. From that perspective the cost of providing connectivity should always be considered in the context of the bigger picture,” said Frank Coles, Transas CEO.

Applications like Thesis have the potential to cut out much of the drudgery that has crept on to the bridge and into the engine room in the past few years, passing it back to the shore and allowing the crew to focus on the tasks they were employed to do – namely delivering the ship and its cargo safely from A to B. ‘’Freeing crew from time-consuming administration tasks will give them more time to carry out pro-active maintenance or devise new solutions that will have a positive impact on vessel operational efficiency and safety,” said Mr Coles.

He said launching a platform that combined Transas’s range of services and solutions was the result of ‘’dramatic improvements in communications infrastructure between ship and shore in the same way that the internet paved the way for the connected economy that has revolutionised our lives on land.’’

Smarter links between ship and shore have helped to forge a solution to chemical spills and incidents and their after-effects. The US-based data specialist Q88 has launched a Q88 Response Centre for chemical tanker and dry bulk carrier owners and managers that has a support programme that prompts rapid responses to such spills and incidents and also handles crisis situations such as injuries, medical problems and man overboard emergencies at sea.

The centre is staffed by trained personnel who monitor telephone calls, emails and website requests for 24/7 assistance as well as gathering details of emergencies, determining issues and dispatching the relevant resources. The centre also gives ships access to telemedicine contacts, assesses patients ashore and provides emergency evacuation assistance if  needed.

It is part of Q88’s commodity platform, Milbros Onboard, and has a database of global chemical/hazmat (hazardous materials) spill clean-up contractors to assist owners and managers when incidents occur. “While all tankers are required to have oil spill response organisations (OSRO) in place for oil spills, most OSROs are not set up for handling and mitigating chemical/hazmat  spills. It’s a gap in the market that we felt the industry definitely needed,” said Captain Soren C Ibsen, VP of Q88’s Milbros Systems.

To complete the package, Q88 linked up with Spill Center, an emergency response provider that gives environmental, technical and legal advice, and Future Care, a marine medical service which supplies physicians, nurses and medical case managers to help ill or injured crew members. Future Care helps the centre manage incident responses and arranges treatment, repatriation and hospital outpatient care until a seafarer is fit to return to work or else achieves near-complete recovery.

With all their smart technology and cyber-savvy features, today’s connected ships are more complex and more prone to human error, safety hazards and security breaches than their predecessors. Enter RightShip. The Australian maritime risk management company has produced a vetting tool to monitor and help prevent these problems.

Called RightShip Qi, the platform holds information on all commercial vessels of 500 tonnes plus, and models the interaction between different risk factors rather than deal with them in isolation. In fact the platform can predict with a high level of accuracy the likelihood of a vessel having an incident in the next 12 months. ‘’With the development of new technology, older systems are simply unable to handle the volume and velocity of the data we now have at our disposal and so we developed a new one which is an upgraded and more accurate version of our previous Ship Vetting Information System (SVIS) platform,” said Helen Gibney, Marketing Consultant at RightShip.

All data that enters the platform – from more than 50 independent sources including Port State Control inspections, casualty histories, satellite technology and feedback from ports and terminals – is matched and cleansed, with any duplicates or bad data removed to create what the company describes as a golden record for the vessel. The key aim is to target poorly-performing and sub-standard vessels.

One way that owners and managers can satisfy themselves that their vessels are performing well against RightShip Qi’s risk factors is ‘’making sure  their safety management systems have adequate procedures for the management, supervision and inspection of the vessel and ensuring that everyone with the vessel involved complies with regulatory requirements,’’ said Ms Gibney.

Although RightShip does not ‘approve’ vessels, it recommends them as acceptable – or unacceptable as the case may be – risks to their owners or managers based on the platform’s data and uses a star system to rate their seaworthiness. The risk rating of an average vessel  is three stars, while a one or two-star vessel is deemed below average and a four or five-star one above average. In fact the company’s official vessel incident rates for 2014-2015 show that a one-star vessel is up to 20 times more likely to be involved in an incident than a five-star one.

Another feature of RightShip Qi is a certificate that gives vessels a compliance rating. Devised in partnership with the anti-bribery specialists TRACE, the certificate, which appears on a vessel’s dashboard in the platform, shows which owners have taken due diligence reviews and the outcome of the processes. ‘’It demonstrates the vessel owner’s commitment to commercial transparency, which in turn reduces the risk to charterers,’’ said Ms Gibney.

RightShip, which has also developed a Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Rating for vessels, is now developing a marine emissions portal for owners and managers in partnership with the Australian Marine Environment Protection Association (AUSMEPA). The portal will measure changing air emissions in port environments and gauge vessels’ emissions profiles based on satellite data, GHG and air pollution estimates.

The growth of cyber crime in the shipping industry (see Hackers wage a cyber war at sea article on page 10) has led  to the development of another smart initiative – a platform to tighten the security of vessel networks and to help IT managers manage risk remotely. The product will be launched by World-Link Communications in Q1 2017. “It also includes an enhanced VPN service that offers a direct and ways-on connection between office and ship for the first time without having to dial up or count the megabytes per second,” said Asad Salameh, President of World-Link.

As an advocate of always-on connectivity, World-Link has been a major installer of Inmarsat’s Fleet Xpress global network and Inmarsat’s hybrid K-band/L-band service. “The days of ‘almost always’ connected are over. Owners and managers can no longer afford to have a ship offline. With Fleet Express’s ability to seamlessly switch between Ka and L-band coverage, the vessel is never out of contact and is always on at high speed. We will eventually see ships connected as if they were land offices and we are seeing those connectivity levels already among leading ship owners while the majority will catch up within the next three to four years. By then most vessels will have a 2MB connectivity, or high capacity L-band broadband delivering 8GB-12GB a month,” said Mr Salameh.

As a back-up tool, World-Link has developed a data centre linking its infrastructure to the Inmarsat network. “It allows us greater flexibility and control in managing our fleet of satellite terminals. It allows us to offer our customers the latest in enhanced cyber security services, remote fleet management services, VoIP [voice over internet protocol], VPN and a number of other value-added services,” he said.

World-Link has also launched an application called Fleet File Manager as part of its ShipSat portal. This distributes information to and from a fleet via a secure and encrypted link and can broadcast a single file of data either to the whole fleet or to a single vessel. Instead of relaying information from ship to shore, Fleet File Manager can also work in the opposite direction – from shore to ship, enabling owners and managers to send chart updates, PMS (performance management systems), data previously transferred from ship to shore and corporate newsletters from a land-based network to the vessel.

The company recently brought out a ShipSat2 portal. One of its more user-friendly features is that crew members can send messages via Skype at the same time as blocking Skype streaming. “In ShipSat2 we have introduced cyber security capabilities to enhance vessel network protection and a more secure communication link. Onboard systems are always connected to the corporate LAN (local area network) similar to any land-based company’s branch office and onboard equipment appears as permanently and physically connected to the office,” said World-Link’s President.

One welcome spin-off of smart connectivity and the intense rivalry between its providers is the lower, more competitive prices of some of the latest equipment. “New satellite capacity made available by the introduction of Inmarsat Fleet Xpress, Intelsat’s incoming Epic platform and the Iridium NEXT service is fuelling competition which is driving many of the costs per unit down,” said Mr Salameh.

Speedier, more flexible data and bandwiths are also a failsafe way for owners and managers to trim their costs during the current trading slump. “Smart shipping couldn’t be better timed. Mining the data generated by vessels offers a new route to identifying hitherto invisible areas for streamlining – both at an individual vessel and fleet level. An extended period of depressed freight rates is making it harder for operators in all segments to keep their heads above water. Many are already running a tight ship so most traditional avenues for shaving costs have already been exhausted,” explained Transas’s Frank Coles.

Dualog launches Innovation Garage to challenge the boundaries 

Dualog, one of the world’s leading providers of ship-to-shore data communications services, is challenging the boundaries of smart thinking in the shipping industry by launching a company that aims to change the way software providers deliver IT solutions to the global shipping industry.

Known as Innovation Garage, the new entity will draw on the skills and talents of the best IT developers in the business to deliver the highly innovative products and solutions that tomorrow’s shipping industry will need.

Innovation Garage is built upon a long tradition of start-ups in the IT industry: Facebook, Google, Apple, and Hewlett Packard all started out in a small room – or a garage. And the famous HP ‘rules of the garage’ – where you share tools and ideas, there is no politics or bureaucracy, and where radical ideas are not bad ideas – will serve as the mantra for the Innovation Garage team.

Innovation Garage is part of a wider and broader strategy by Dualog to deliver boundary-pushing communication and application platforms for the global shipping industry. Morten Lind-Olsen, Chief Executive Officer of Dualog, said the idea behind Innovation Garage was about “working with our existing customer base of 3,000 ships to prepare for the future.

“Dualog is founded on the DNA of ‘Innovations at Sea, Delivered with Passion’, and has always been known as a company ready and able to meet any challenge. Broadband at sea is becoming more available and affordable which again opens up a new world of opportunities to our customers. The area of ‘Internet of Things’ is one focus area that is very much unexplored and where the shipping industry is facing many challenges such as with existing hardware as well as understanding and fully exploiting Big Data,” he said.

“Innovation Garage gives us the opportunity to drive fresh blood into the IT industry and look to the future in a new way. We are recruiting people at the forefront of the industry from all over the world. We want to work with people who can contribute in a passionate way and have a track record of creating exciting new ideas,” he said.