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Author: Emma Mark

Emma Mark has spent the last eight years marketing new technology products and services to the maritime sector. She currently manages the marketing output for Intelligent Cargo Systems, a maritime technology startup which develops port call optimisation technology for the container sector.

Previously, Emma worked at Global Navigation Solutions where she ran workshops advising clients on issues such as cyber security and the integration of new technology to improve the working environment at sea and ashore and reduce operational costs.

Before GNS, Emma worked directly with the UKHO's distributor network to enable the industry's move away from paper charts and publications over to digital solutions.

The truth about maritime cyber security

The truth about maritime cyber security

Yes you did read that correctly, there are no official records of cyber attacks in the maritime industry.  None. Nada. Nee. Nein. So does that mean it doesn’t exist? I’m certainly not suggesting that the CEO from Templar Executives, a British cyber security firm, is wrong, sadly he’s most likely bang on the money but why is this the case?  

The seafaring community have been bleating on about cyber-risk for years and yet not one of the many, many governing bodies or think tanks in our industry has thought, “Here’s an idea,  let’s jot down how many attacks there have been so we can see if there’s a trend and then maybe we might be able to work out how to mitigate the risk using actual data”. We collect data for everything; ENC usage, bunkers, stores, route planning, the list is endless, and yet we aren’t actively processing targeted maritime cyber attacks?  

Lloyds of London estimate that a serious cyber attack in our industry could cost the global economy $92bn, not exactly small change is it?  KNect365 undertook their regular Crew Connectivity survey last year and the results pertaining to cyber activity were pretty damning; 49% of seafarers said that they are unaware of their employers’ cyber policies, and a significant majority (41%) thought the responsibility lies with the Master of the ship.  Furthermore, 47% of seafarers said they had sailed on a vessel that had become a target of cyber attack, with a shocking 85% of the survey respondents stating that they hadn’t received any cyber training.

So let’s get this straight, nearly half of the crew that took this survey are saying that they’d fallen foul to cyber activity and yet we’re still not recording it via official channels?  

Potentially there are two reasons as to why no one is paying attention to these figures, the first is because if our regulatory bodies do start totting up the numbers, they’ll see that the problem is far bigger than they anticipated and the high level guidelines and numerous articles on cyber protection aren’t doing a damn thing.  Take Marinemec’s recent article ‘Three Cornerstones for Effective Maritime Cyber Security’, it’s a great read, if you’re a CEO with an army of IT folk who can decipher all the blue sky thinking waffle and actually read between the lines to find the practical advice.  If 85% of crews interviewed are saying they’ve never received any cyber training whatsoever, how is threat intelligence assessment going to help them when their ECDIS is riddled with malware and the comms systems have been hacked?  Bet those paper charts and dividers are looking pretty attractive right about now aren’t they?  

Having been lucky enough to go to a cyber seminar last year, the most effective way to reduce cyber attacks is something that is easy to do, free and most importantly, doesn’t require a ridiculously expensive consultancy firm to do it – TALK TO YOUR CREW!!  Give them the training that they need to make them aware of the big no-no’s, i.e. don’t put your personal USB into an ECDIS (yep, that has happened, more than once), make it mandatory to change passwords regularly, update your software when it tells you to rather than just assume the IT team will do it.  These are the basics but they work. Yes by all means have the strategies and contingency plans in place, but that kind of work takes years to sort out, go for the quick win and have regular conversations with your teams onboard and onshore.

As for the second reason, well, let’s call it a theory because I can’t prove it, but I strongly suspect that there is a fear culture at play.  Let’s pretend Dave works onboard a tanker and wants to charge his smartphone, he’s on watch so he uses a USB port on the ship’s computer. He doesn’t know this but that email he opened two hours ago that looked like it was from his crewing agency was actually a trojan horse.  He’s now infected the entire network with malware which could bring down the ship’s main computer.  Dave, when he realises what he’s done is going to go into a blind panic because he knows he may potentially be sacked.  So what does he do? Absolutely nothing. He removes his phone and hopes the problem will magically go away.

The aviation industry has adopted a Just Culture, meaning that if you make an honest mistake but report it, you will receive protection from punitive measures such as prosecution or dismissal.  By installing that ‘own up’ mentality, it means that people like Dave can go to their bosses as soon as the issue becomes apparent and IT can work faster to fix it because they know exactly what they’re looking for.  Dave might get a bollocking from his boss but he’ll also get additional training and the rest of the crew working for that company will also be informed of how that situation came about, therefore reducing the risk of it happening again. The crux of the matter is this; we need to tell people that it’s okay to make mistakes if we learn from them. We all do it, but pretending that it never happened and willing it to go away only makes the situation worse.  Blame culture isn’t just a shipping issue, but it is particularly bad in our industry and it is an attitude with consequences that extend beyond cyber security and into safety. If we want to really get a grip on cyber, we’ve got to start talking more and forget about the blame game.

Cyber security isn’t just a problem for the Master, or IT, or even the CEO.  It’s everyone’s problem, and to solve it we need every man and woman to get onboard and start taking responsibility. It might not be new and exciting but good old fashioned training, continuous development and initiating a fear free culture are the real three cornerstones that make up a solid cyber strategy.   

Information overload?

Information overload?

The influx of new technology over the last ten years into the maritime industry has been at times, quite overwhelming.  The days of using a paper chart, a sextant and a pair of dividers seem like a lifetime ago when things were much simpler, there was no risk of cyber threats, no dirty USBs to worry about, and no back-up systems to install.  Mariners used their inherited knowledge and skills handed down from master to master and spent a lot more time looking out of the window rather than at a computer screen.

Whilst there is no doubt that the skills are learnt at prestigious maritime colleges such as Warsash are incredibly important, there is now so much more for our PlayStation generation seafarers to master. The introduction of raster charts overtook paper, and then of course came vector charts alongside ECDIS and the bar was raised even higher.  Talk to any mariner of a certain age and they’ll tell you that you still can’t beat a paper chart, the look, the feel and most importantly, the reliability of it are something that is seen by many as irreplaceable.

But as we progress deeper into the age of digitalisation, are we losing those basic maritime skills, particularly when it comes to looking out of the window, are we relying too much on machines and technology to tell us what to do and how will this end up affecting us in the future?

Ignoring the warning signs

We’re all a bit guilty of this, how many times have you completely dismissed the flashing petrol light in your car telling you to fill up. You’re convinced there’s a secret stash of fuel in the tank for just such an occasion so you power on through and are gobsmacked when the car stops in the middle of the road!  There are a thousand examples of when we ignore the warning signs. Now, imagine having hundreds of flashing lights, alerts and alarms on your ECDIS. You know the route like the back of your hand so you turn the alarm off, or maybe you just think it is being over cautious so you ignore them and, God forbid, you have an incident.  An incident that could have, and should have, been prevented.

So where does the fault lie?  Is it the ECDIS too complicated, is it lack of training, or simply human error?  And this isn’t something that occured when ECDIS was first introduced, these incidents are still happening today, albeit slightly less so.

Who needs education?

Having talked to various fleet managers over the years about crew training, there is a small contingent that, rightly or wrongly, are against implementing digital solutions onboard.  Their reasoning is that many of the crew onboard are transient, or agency based or from poor educational backgrounds and so they have to ask themselves, do we really want to trust them with new technology?  This is the same crew are trusted with navigating a multi million pound vessel, plus the countless millions of pounds worth of cargo onboard, much of which, if improperly managed, could have a catastrophic environmental impact.  How’s that for irony?

But these fleet managers have a point.  If the crews are already struggling with the mandatory technology onboard, or at least not using it to its greatest potential, why implement further solutions that will only confuse matters?  In an ideal world, all new tech onboard would be so intuitive that a small child could pick it up and understand it. But we work in a complex industry and whilst there are thousands of seafarers, it’s unfair to compare the simplicity of say, an iPhone, to an integrated bridge system which is why we can never expect new technology to be that simple.  

Man v’s Automation

Here’s the thing, there is a very real risk of technology overtaking the role of the more unskilled seafarer, particularly given the ongoing push for automated vessels in certain sectors.  So where does that leave these men and women that have spent their entire working lives onboard, is the shipping company going to train and upskill them, find them other roles that are shore based?  Call me a cynic but I’m going to say it’s highly unlikely. The whole reason behind automation is to increase efficiency, minimise human error and ultimately reduce costs. So why spend money on training courses for staff, continue to pay their salaries and benefits when the reality is, you’re going to get rid of them anyway?  

We only have to look at the introduction of robotics automotive industry in the 80’s to see how that panned out, and I think it’s safe to say the machines won.  In the last twelve months alone, Honda, Ford and Jaguar Land Rover have all announced further job cuts. Furthermore, if automated cars really do become a reality the UK workforce alone could be set to lose 1.2 million driving based jobs from its economy.

One can only hazard a guess as to how many men and women in the shipping industry would be out of work if technology really does start to overtake.

So what’s the answer?

Personally, I think as an industry that is rapidly embracing technology and all the benefits it brings, we have a responsibility to make that technology as easy to understand as possible.  Okay, we’re never going to be Apple or any of the other hundreds of plug and play variety but can we cut the crap and stop pretending that everyone understands every new idea that comes into the market.  Most of us have a basic understanding of what blockchain is but that doesn’t mean we know how to make it work for us. And why should we? We’re not all MIT graduates, we’re mariners, or in my case, not even that.  The key to successful implementation of any new product or service is to explain what it is, why it’s good, how it works for you and how to get started with it.

Only by sharing our knowledge and understanding how technology can benefit us as both individuals and companies, can we start to make real progress.

Who needs evidence?

Who needs evidence?

We don’t normally do this but for once, we’re using this space to actually agree with someone. Let’s get one thing straight before we go on, we aren’t doing a Donald Trump and saying that global warming isn’t happening because that’s just plain daft and frankly the evidence to support climate change is too overwhelming to ignore.

Shipping is responsible for around 3% of the global GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions but remains the most efficient transportation method known to man, so why are the fingers pointing at us to miraculously find a solution to the most life threatening problem man has ever faced?  Heating and electricity are the biggest culprits, racking up 31% in man made GHGs, but nobody wants to live in a house without central heating, aircon, lighting and all the modcons that we’ve all become so very accustomed to. And what about deforestation and aggressive agriculture?  The public may be up in arms, and rightly so, about the loss of rainforests and the catastrophic effect this is having on our environment but are we all going to give up palm oil? Nope, because we all quite like our chocolate, baked goods, and glossy hair shampoo.

But back to the issue in hand, our industry is under pressure to reduce steaming speeds for all commercial vessels and as Mr Sanguinetti, CEO of the UK Chamber of Shipping has pointed out, there isn’t sufficient evidence to back up this claim.   Slowing down vessels will effectively increase demand for them, meaning more vessels are out at sea delivering our cheap trainers, jeans and white goods from the Far East. This isn’t the answer, the answer comes from looking to technology and science, there are literally hundreds probably thousands of innovators out there with potential solutions for us to choose from.

Take StormGeo for example, last year they routed 64,000 voyages worldwide, resulting in 1 million tons of high-sulphur fuel oil savings, a 3 million ton reduction in CO2 emissions, and  35,000 tons less sulphur released into the atmosphere. All by using weather data and a bit of brain power.

Mr Sanguinetti hits the nail on the head when he goes on to say, “Were (the recent IMO) proposals to be accepted, it would provide a disincentive to research, development, engineering and manufacturing necessary to decarbonise.”  And that’s the issue, if we accept slow steaming as a silver bullet, and it most certainly is not, we’re closing our minds to the other possibilities that are right in front of us.

Initiatives in China are looking at widespread onshore charging stations and will have 500 shore power units installed by 2020 using renewable energy to allow vessels to cold iron when in port.  Genius! So why aren’t we all looking at this kind of solution? Why aren’t the IMO forcing the major shipping liners to fund research into renewable energy sources, wind powered vessels and port call optimisation to reduce fuel consumption?  Because it’s easier to go for the quick win and as we discussed last week, that quick win could potentially make a lot of people a lot of money.

As consumers, we also have to question our own commitment to the environmental cause.  Are we really prepared to pay more for our goods from overseas, knowing that if we keep on pretending that everything is just fine we can continue to get cheap clothes and food, and screw the consequences? There is often a discrepancy between our intentions and opinions and the actions we actually take.  To illustrate this point British actress Emma Thompson recently partook in an environmental demonstration in London and then flew back to LA first class with British Airways.

As an industry we have to look to the future, doing the same thing that we’ve done time and time again won’t save us now.  We’ve tried slow streaming and it didn’t suddenly show an enormous dent in the GHG used, so how about we actually go for the next big thing, whatever that may be?  The human race is the most advanced it has ever been, we can achieve anything we set our minds to and yet we’re still looking backwards for a miracle cure that is never going to come.  

It’s time to wake up and smell those overpriced coffee beans (bought to you all the way from Costa Rica by ship), and do something because we’re really running out of time, and that’s the one thing we can’t recreate.

Are we saving the planet or lining our pockets?

Are we saving the planet or lining our pockets?

Back in April of this year France made a submission to the IMO urging for the introduction of a global speed limit for commercial vessels.  Since then 113 shipping companies have all followed suit, issuing an open letter to the IMO agreeing with Frances’ proposal. For the record, the majority of signatories are from the Greek shipping community and whilst there are a few big players on the list, none of the main liners have put their names to it.  Yet.

Most of us have a pretty decent moral compass, we know the difference between right and wrong and whilst we might not always make the best decisions, we do so mostly in good faith.  I’d have to question the compass guiding Ardmore Shipping during a recent telephone call discussing their Q1 Earnings. The CEO of Ardmore was asked about the letter to the IMO calling for speed limits on all commercial vessels in a bid to reduce greenhouse gases.  A laudable, if not perhaps slightly simplistic viewpoint, but certainly made with the best intentions. The transcript goes something like this

Analyst – “Okay. And then I just want to ask — kind of the news that hit yesterday about proposal for like a speed limit for the IMO. Were you guys the signatories to that? And what are your thoughts on that, and kind of how that would potentially play out for MRs?”

Ardmore Shipping CEO – “We’re not signatories. However, we are very engaged in the industry forums in terms of discussing ways to meet the targets, and we think it’s a very realistic one. I think that the various technology-driven solutions are going to come much later. So I think people are realizing that operational methods are really the way to go early on. And it seems like a really interesting idea.  Obviously when you slow ships down, you’re essentially reducing effective supply, and that’s got consequences for the market. I doubt regulators would intend to put constraints on ships that result in the charter markets going haywire. I don’t think we would complain if that happened, but that’s probably not really in the cards. But, overall we think it’s a pretty sensible component of an overall longer-term solution.”

Essentially, Ardmore are dismissing any technological solutions because, and this is where it gets really fun, by implementing slow steaming regulations they stand to increase their revenue.  If ships slow down the demand for them increases, liners have to increase the number of vessels in their service to meet the demand and the rates go up. The vessels’ value increases and with more vessels at sea, the potential for a surge in newbuilds also increases.

I’m all for working together to create solutions for a better environment, because let’s be honest, we haven’t got a Planet B to go to if this one goes belly up.  But to dress up something as an environmental cause but really be rubbing your hands in glee at the thought of all those extra dollars you’re going to make? No, that’s just not right and smacks strongly of one very misguided moral compass.

The man from Del Monte says no

The man from Del Monte says no

I never thought I’d see the day when the man from Del Monte, famous for always saying yes and giving a cheery thumbs up, would actually say no.  But it turns out that if one of his vessels is delayed in port for 36 hours with its luscious cargo rapidly losing its shelf life, he’s not so amenable after all.

It all started when the Johannes S vessel docked into an APM Terminal in Costa Rica on Saturday April 6th at 5 pm where, for reasons that have yet to be made clear (or at least public), she had to stay docked until Monday 8th April at 5.30 am.  The full article can be read here but the long and the short of it appears to be a lack of communication between the port and the Workers Union of Japdeva, who incidentally have condemned reports that a further two vessels got fed up of waiting for assistance in the same terminal and set sail for Panama instead.

Del Monte have every right to be frustrated. Not only have they had to pay for unnecessary time in port, increased costs in refrigeration and the potential of the products not meeting their high standards, but it also completely destroys any chance of the vessel staying on her planned schedule.  These are significant knock-on effects that cost money, waste fuel (imagine how many extra bunkers were being burnt just to try and claw back some of the lost time?), and most importantly causes countless headaches for the shipowners, logistics suppliers, vendors and of course, the end customer. Who wants to buy a rotten banana?

As the terminal has yet to comment, it’s difficult to surmise why this happened and therefore how it can be prevented from happening again.  Sticking to the schedule is paramount in commercial shipping, particularly if you’re a reefer vessel carrying countless tonnes of perishable fruit.  For a smaller company with more modest resources, this is the kind of catastrophe that has dire financial and economic consequences.

I really wouldn’t want to start upsetting one of the largest fruit and vegetable producers on the planet, because it turns out that the man with the jaunty panama hat isn’t quite as agreeable as you might think…

A career in maritime? Isn’t that just a very big (lonely) office at sea?

A career in maritime? Isn’t that just a very big (lonely) office at sea?

There’s been plenty of discussion over the last few years on how to make the Merchant Navy an attractive career choice for young people.  We’ve gently mocked the new millennials a few times on these blogs, referencing their inability to be in a given place without a WiFi code.  I have little doubt that in the not-too-distant future, the generic greeting from one human to another will be boiled down to “Hi, how are you and can I have your WiFi password?”  

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Talk about stating the obvious

Talk about stating the obvious

In a recent article with JOC, APM Terminals in Mumbai said, ‘There is no doubt that terminals of the future would see an increasing use of technology in all aspects of terminal operations leading to more productive and efficient operations.’  

When I read that a small part of me died inside.

Okay that’s a slight exaggeration, but come on; of course an increase in technology in terminal operations will lead to increased efficiency.  It’s called progression, and while we might not be the fastest industry to make technology work for us, we are coming up with some pretty innovative ideas to get vessels from A to B faster,  more economically and with less idle time in port.

Take JOC for example. They rank ports ‘Trip Advisor-style’ by looking at terminals that have taken the efficiency issue seriously and actually done something about it, rather than just talk about it..  They’ve taken berth productivity and weighted those productivity numbers by call size to achieve actual improvement in year-over-year performance. Now if that isn’t innovative, I don’t know what is.

It doesn’t stop there, and happens at different scales too. The Port of Rotterdam Authority and Multimodal Coordination Foundation and Brabant Advice Centre (MCA Brabant) recently signed a partnership agreement to increase container transport via inland shipping between Rotterdam and North Brabant.  Emile Hoogsteden, Director of Containers, Breakbulk & Logistics at the Port of Rotterdam Authority said, ‘Smart connections between the Port of Rotterdam and Brabant will result in structurally higher multimodal transport reliability, and this will contribute to the sustainable accessibility and growth of one of the most important logistics hotspots in the Netherlands.’

As the old adage says, talk is cheap, but developing ideas and actually bringing them to fruition for the good of the industry both financially, economically and environmentally.  That isn’t obvious, that’s ingenious.

You know what they say about assumptions…

You know what they say about assumptions…

I don’t know about you, but the definition of the word “assumption” that has served me best over the years is Oscar Wilde’s maxim, “ When you assume, you make an ass out of u and me.”   In an article in Container Management late last year, MSC noted: “We can only assume that container terminal congestion at the main ports of the trade will continue to worsen, leading us to anticipate and incorporate longer time buffers in the schedule, in terms of port stays and speed at sea.”

You see the problem with assumptions is that they keep our minds closed, they can stifle our ideas and blind us to our potential.  

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ONE want a revolution

ONE want a revolution

Schedule changes can wreak havoc in container shipping, whilst they may not always result in delay, they can be sure to cause headaches for all involved.  In an article by JOC they shared some of the worst offenders with Antwerp having the highest average number of changes at 7.4 per shipping schedule, and Rotterdam having the highest percentage of schedule changes that were over 24 hours at 49 percent.  

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Maersk and the missing port calls

Maersk and the missing port calls

In December 2018 Container Management interviewed Maersk in respect of reports stating there would be fewer port calls in some locations to improve schedule reliability and enable stable and reliable cargo deliveries to its customers. Maersk were quoted as saying: “To meet our customers’ increasing need for reliable cargo delivery, we have reviewed our service network and identified additional time to recover from the potential delays we continue to face from bad weather and other external factors.”

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