A ship’s outlay on satellite communications is typically just 0.3% of its
total operating costs, yet this investment can bring savings of up to 10%
Shipping has come a long way from the boom years of the past decade. Back then, so long as the thing floated, ships and the technology onboard were almost irrelevant as owners ladled in cash in near record levels. Fast-forward to today’s straightened times and the smartest shipowners and managers are doing all they can to trim costs, whether it be from hull modifications to using the latest software. Marketing of technology in the maritime sphere has completely changed – it is all about saving costs. Owners are increasingly willing to pay for technology that in the long run can palpably then save them operating costs. This is a trend that will likely stay with the industry. This has not been lost on Inmarsat, the world’s number one provider of maritime satellite communications. As the graph provided by the UK-headquartered tech giant on this page above, satellite communications account for typically just 0.3% of a vessel’s operating costs and yet with good, judicious use can help owners’ save up to 10% of their ship operating costs.
Having the right communications package can enable savings from just about every facet of the vessel and its journey whether it be fuel, port or insurance costs and much more besides. “There’s much more intelligent debate on telecoms these days,” observes Ronald Spithout, President of Inmarsat Maritime. “There is a mind shift to treating communications as an enabler.” With FleetBroadband and Fleet Xpress masters and superintendents can stay in constant touch with head office, clients and ports. They can transmit estimated times of arrival and departure so schedules can be kept up to date, order supplies en route and send cargo reports back to headquarters. Crew documentation, such as customs and immigration information and other port and regulatory reports, can be dealt with ahead of arrival, using quick and reliable internet access or fax. Masters can also log-on securely to their company intranet or take part in video conferences with head office. On land, shipmanagement companies can track their assets and monitor equipment remotely, alerting onshore experts to any problems and using Inmarsat’s services to help prevent situations where defective machinery causes delays or wastes money.
Dawn of a revolution
Spithout sees maritime communications in flux, at the dawn of a revolution brought about by the development of a myriad of applications for the shipping industry. The future of shipping – the ‘Google Ship’ as espoused in the other story on our site – might be years away, but never before has the industry been so willing to harness technology to slash costs. In the future it is not too difficult to imagine a shipmanager as just a network operating centre with a bank of screens with sensors and videos onboard reporting everything. Whereas previously vessels were often seen as separate units of an IT network, today IT and communications are much more integrated, to the extent one can think of vessels sailing at sea as remote offices that are part of a globally connected network. Maritime communications will be the enabler for the tech revolution likely to wash over shipping in the coming 10 years. “Owners are asking us what they can do with all these new communication channels and apps to help them reduce costs,” Spithout relates. “By adding data to a vessel we can show the savings clearly across that ship.”
Crew retention tool
All Inmarsat’s maritime offerings have three key tenets at the heart of their development – safety, efficiency and crew welfare, the latter of which Spithout has plenty of opinions. It seems the industry is split on how much internet access there should be onboard, judging by our survey (see page 16). The split is between seafarers and their employers, the shipowners and managers. Yet, for Spithout at least, he thinks there should be no debate on the matter. He describes internet access at sea as “almost a human right” and points to a recent seafarer survey carried out by global shipowner association BIMCO, which found that satellite communications form a major part of the decision process for crews choosing ships. “Satellite communications help with crew retention,” he says adamantly. “Recruiting and training people is so expensive and time consuming. If you can help retain them by providing internet access to connect them to their family and life ashore and by providing additional services like showing movies and sport, that’s great for all concerned and brings a wealth of benefits to the owner for the long term. Our Fleet Media service is already significantly enriching life onboard and as more services are added we see huge potential for both owners and crew alike.”
First published in Maritime CEO satellite communications June 2015