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A Captain’s View on Smart Operations, Singapore, 12th May 2016

By Capt. Errol Gonsalves, The Marcura Group

This 9th in the series of events organised by Fathom Maritime Intelligence had a more than moderate turnout last week in Singapore. Kudos to the speakers at the event! 

The following is a short summary of the day:

Smart Ships, Unmanned Ships, Paperless Ships, Ship Efficiency Data, Cybersecurity on ships — these were some of the buzzwords of the well-attended event. There was a sense of deja vu with a couple of repeated topics from Singapore Maritime Week held recently, but this just highlights the fact that the industry is concerned about the same topics. It is often said that the maritime industry has been slow in adopting new technology and while for the most part this is true, a peek into the future leaves you feeling awed.

So how smart is Smart?

The topic of Smart Ships was scary. Somehow, the thought of behemoths sailing across the oceans laden with crude with no one on board makes one sit back and think – albeit with duplicate fail-safe systems, and safety nets to kick in in the event of breakdown. Apparently, we already have the technology today to have unmanned ships and several trials are underway in different parts of the world. That said, I am not certain I would sleep well ashore.

Several thought-provoking questions arise: What happens to seafarers? Captains watching a console from ashore, guiding a ship – will this be the end of seafaring as we know it? Will seafaring evolve into another profession? Without belittling the topic, would this be one giant video game? But around 80% of accidents at sea are currently attributed to human errors; some of the world’s biggest maritime disasters were directly attributed to human error. Therefore, would removing the human element actually contribute to a safer record? Perhaps.

And the threat?

Several new revolutionary changes are coming up in the Inmarsat front that afford greater bandwidths and allow for more innovation. A huge amount of data bandwidth would be needed for smart autonomous ships. Imagine then the ramifications of cyber threat, whether from a USB stick carried on board or via a denial of service attack – even perhaps taking control over the maritime asset remotely!

Is it time to throw out the paper?

Conventional maritime shipboard operations have a massive environmental impact in terms of use of paper, from the very manuals that a ship is equipped with at the start of her life to various operations-related records and logbook entries needed to be diligently recorded. It is, perhaps, still early days for manuals to be done away with or to have smart manuals that would be available or visible depending on what part of the machinery failed.

Ashore, there has already been strides taken to eliminate paper, with electronic B/Ls now being recognized and various advanced services providing paperless integration into operating and accounting systems at the shipping company’s office.

At Marcura, we first assisted our customers in removing paper from their offices and now facilitate direct upload of invoices onto the systems that are integrated.

 Change is imminent

 A common theme is the inevitability of change. Perhaps the current shipping climate is not the most ideal for expensive innovation to kick in, but as Capt. Haddock would say, “Blistering Barnacles and Thundering typhoons!”


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