TECHNOLOGY AND EFFICIENCY March 2020 Pros and cons of the connected crew By Craig Eason, Journalist and event host Discussing what can be done has made way for talk of what is being done Photo (top): Adobe Stock / Igor Kardasov Digital reality is dawning in today’s shipping industry. Technology companies are no longer simply hyping up the potential of what they can do or talking about the disruption big data, digitalisation, the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence may bring. Discussing what can be done has made way for talk of what is being done. In 2020, there are companies in the industry openly talking about how they are actually using technological advances to find new ways of engaging with clients and customers, to streamline and to save money. All this tech talk has led to a renewed focus on the user – notably the crew. Ship managers have rapidly adopted digital tools and, by doing so, have strengthened their roles within the industry. Some have formed their own IT companies, such as Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement with MariApps. Others – notably OSM and Columbia Shipmanagement – have built operational centres that use machine learning and data- processing tools to improve fleet and vessel. The communications world will change rapidly, and the people on board will not feel alone Such developments make for an interesting next decade for ship management. Despite this growth in digital solutions, the sector still relies on attracting, educating, training and retaining thousands of crew members. Many companies are also pledging to increase the number of women on their ships; in many cases this figure still languishes around the 1% to 2% mark. There is also a growing need for greater crew competency on modern vessels. They now need to be aware of onboard digital tools and cyber security, as well as have knowledge of the more mundane maintenance, navigation and cargo-focused roles. In part, there is a growing recognition among ship managers that digital tools can benefit the crew, not only with their jobs, but with their welfare too. Power at their fingertips According to Capt Franck Kayser, Group Managing Director at V.Group, nearly all crew members now have access to smartphones. On V.Group’s vessels, he believes the number is above 90%. This development is welcomed by ship managers. V.Group actively encourages smartphone use by its crews and has rolled out a dedicated app. Not only can crew and officers download certificates and follow training programmes, the app also carries information that helps them to understand their work schedule. “We are getting much closer to each individual crew member. They are getting much more transparency regarding their own individual situation,” says Capt Kayser, pointing to how crew can now see when they will be joining or leaving vessels. “What we want is for them to be able to look a year ahead and see their plans, and impact them as necessary,” he says. But all this increased connectivity can have a downside. While crew and officers now have direct contact with family and loved ones, there are occasions when home issues may occur at a time when they are unable to help, leaving them feeling powerless because they are so far away. It has led to a greater focus on the mental welfare of crew. Many are now being offered better resources to deal with mental health issues, such as access to independent counsellors either online or via the phone. More fluid connectivity An increase in connectivity will inevitably lead to a reduction in crew numbers, according to Columbia Shipmanagement (CSM) President Mark O’Neil. Despite this, he believes the industry must still focus on its people as there will be manned ships for many years to come. “The danger is that we look at everything else, and not at the people,” he says. During 2020, CSM plans to focus on the people in its organisation to make sure they and the digital tools the company has now introduced are integrated. Digitalisation is about having the right tools, he says, but shipping will always be a people industry. O’Neil is positive that new, next generation connectivity tools will soon be available and the ability to link crew, ship and shore will continue. He believes we cannot simply look at connectivity from the point of view of what we are experiencing today. In the future, connectivity between ship and shore will be much more “fluid”, he says. There may be a full complement of crew, but not all on the vessel. “The communications world will change rapidly, and the people on board will not feel alone in any shape or form, because there will be many different types of communications available between the vessel and the shore,” he says. “We are already looking at hologram technology to deliver some of our training messages,” he adds, by way of explaining how the industry is beginning to think out of the box. “It is like the discussion we had about digitalisation when we thought we had to digitalise everything,” O’Neil says. “I think the talk about fewer people onboard the ship is missing the point.” The crew will still be the crew, he says; “It will just be a case of where some of them sit. The communications world will be much more fluid than it is today. In relative terms, we are still writing on slate compared to where we will be in the future.” Connect with BIMCO Facebook Twitter Linkedin YouTube Craig Eason is a business journalist, editor, photographer, event moderator and public speaker. He reports on the transformation of the shipping industry and has been covering the regulatory framework, technological developments and social and environmental impact of shipping for 15 years. Craig is editorial director of Fathom World, a provider of news and information relating to the changes in the maritime sector, and former Deputy Editor of Lloyd’s List.