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Nor-Shipping: Industry yet to optimise existing vessel connectivity

Maritime communication volumes has really exploded in the past six years, according to Piers Cunningham, Vice President Maritime at communications service provider Speedcast, but there is still a lot more that can be done by operators to maximise the potential available.

In his opening speech  at one of the Fathom led disruptive talks at this year’s Nor-Shipping, Cunningham said it remains crucial that service providers  have a global presence, which is difficult if they do not push for scale. He also said that communication service providers also need to offer a whole suite of services, not just satellite communications.

The biggest explosion by far is the internet and its relationship with crew and passengers. The largest growth in traffic has come from crew using social media onboard and while this needs to managed carefully by shipowners, its importance should not be underestimated as many crew will not take a job unless they can connect easily to the Internet while at sea. However, Cunningham believes it is essential for crews to understand the concept of bandwidth and its importance with regards to the safe and efficient operation of the vessel, and not just for Internet access.

In this debate hosted by Speedcast, Fredrik Karlsson, Coordinator, Research & Innovation Swedish Maritime Authority, Katerina Raptaki, IT Manager, Navios Shipmanagement & Vice President AMMITEC and Knut Lønskog, Digital Services Specialist, Siemens joined Piers Cunningham, Executive Vice President Maritime Services, Speedcast  (pictured) to look for the positive benefits created by welcoming disruption.


The debate:

As it moved in to the discussion, Doug Watson of Ericsson described how his company has transferred its experience in providing mobile networks to third-party outfits across to the maritime industry. One example he gave was a project involving Maersk, where the Danish liner giant asked Ericsson to connect up every one of their refrigerated containers. Watson said that it is only once a vessel is connected that you can decide what to do with the available data and tools. This can add residual value to the end customer but the value might not be apparent before the project is implemented.

Knut Lønskog, an Internet of Things specialist at Siemens, explained that while the company started with the idea of everything being connected, he can see that the real value comes from understanding how to use data properly.

One of the other panellists was Katerina Raptaki, IT manager at Greek owner and managed Navios. She is also vice president of AMMITEC, The Association of Maritime Managers in Information Technology and Communications  described how her association adopts a collaborative approach to solving problems.

In her day-job as IT manager at Navios she said she has encountered some initial resistance to transitioning over to digital solutions. On the other hand, Ammitec, which is a scientific association of 150 IT professionals from the shipping industry, fully embraces the possibilities and benefits of adopting new digital practices. The group uses forums to discuss and sometimes solve IT and technology problems using the skills and real-life experiences of its members.

Raptaki believes that skeptical shipowners need to be convinced of the positives of using and sharing data. Big data can, she says, help them to realise more value from their businesses. But there are also difficult technical challenges to overcome in the form of different data platforms and a lack of standardisation.

Fredrik Karlsson, co-ordinator of research and innovation at the Swedish Maritime Authority, is also a convert to the joys of sharing data. Karlsson says the SWA can help shipowners achieve better efficiency and increased levels of safety if they share their data. He explained that there is often a reluctance from owners and operators to share particular data which they believe to be business sensitive such as port ETAs. However, in his experience, it actually benefits the owner to share this information as their overall operation can run much more smoothly, with, for example, pilots and tugs lined up and ready to go for an arriving vessel, which in turn leads to more money in the owner’s pocket.

But how much data is actually being shared in shipping today?

Piers Cunningham says that to the best of his knowledge it is basically only regulatory information that is being actively shared. But he believes that as more and more data is opened up, the industry will reach a “nirvana moment” when everyone realises the wider benefits of sharing information.

Cunningham says the main challenge is to optimise existing connectivity.

“The future is very bright but it is very complex,” he said. “There are a lot of moving parts that will keep on moving.”

Panel: The video

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