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Reimagining vessel operations in the Elon Musk era*

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Reimagining vessel operations in the Elon Musk era

Surendra Lingareddy Founder, Volteo Maritime

Have you seen the video of Falcon 9 landing on a droneship? If you haven’t, you must. Falcon 9 rocket landed on a droneship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean after successfully deploying 60 Starlink satellites. There are two significant events for us in the maritime industry. First, the landing pad is a drone ship, fully autonomous. And the second, Starlink, OneWeb and its peers offer us a promise of an always connected ship.

If the ships had ubiquitous connectivity, will it transform the way how work gets done in this industry today? We believe so.

Reduction of Administrative and Compliance Burden

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Full Thrust rocket. Credit: SpaceX

Shipping has operated for years saddled with regulatory and administrative burden. A survey by Danish Maritime Authority in 2013 revealed that on-average, crew use no less than one-fifth of their working day dealing with what they consider administrative burdens.[1] In our view, in 2021, this burden has increased to one-third of their working day. This causes distraction from their core duties of safe navigation and proactive maintenance. In this industry, distraction can often be expensive and occasionally deadly.

Fortunately, there is good news. IMO has advised flag and class authorities to accept digital documentation. Starting October 2020, MARPOL Electronic record books have now been recommended as the norm.

Most records today are written today by visual inspection in record books. With the industry accepting electronic record books, ships can now record this data directly in type-approved software. If the ship’s equipment sensors are capable to stream data, the same type-approved software can directly pull the data from this equipment, thus eliminating the need for manual entry completely.

On connected ships, this daily operational data can now be shared with regulatory authorities in real-time thus eliminating the need to board the ship for record verification. They can verify this data remotely from their offices and instead only board the ship that requires their presence. We believe increased connectivity will enable the industry focus purely from regulation to de-risking ship operations.

Reimagining ship-shore collaboration

Ship operations are both global and complex. Every transaction often involves a dozen or more entities that rely on data generated on ships to meet their obligations. Today, most of this data is exchanged via emails and phone calls.

Real-time data analysis: Having ubiquitous connectivity will facilitate the industry to move away from documents such as noon-report to real-time report. Ships can obtain and relay information in real-time. This will enable just-in-time arrival into ports, dynamic bunker planning and influence the spot market. Data standardization and real-time reporting will radically transform the way charter party agreements are enforced today. This will allow resolution of issues immediately than having to disagree or arbitrate for months.

Remote assistance when needed: Ships are floating industrial plants that requires experts to keep it going. When things go wrong today, seafarers often have to berth to seek assistance. With always connected ships, experts can visualize the data trends and anticipate issues before things tend to deteriorate. We believe augmented reality will play a significant part in troubleshooting and virtual reality will play a significant part in training. Having real-time data will allow shore side staff to focus on the future needs of the ship and leave the daily operations to the crew.

Consumer-like experiences

Compliance, performance, safety and well-being will undergo a radical transformation on ships. Connectivity will usher in new ways of doing things. Since the advent of 4G mobility, as consumers, we have experienced disruption in banking, transportation, education and shopping.

This next decade, Elon Musk will do the same in maritime. Are you ready yet?


[1] COWI, Danish Maritime Authority, Summary Report

*This article appears in CIRM’s in house Magazine, SPOTLIGHT

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