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Do the economic and environmental benefits of marine scrubbers stand up to scrutiny?

Do the economic and environmental benefits of marine scrubbers stand up to scrutiny?

The popularity of scrubber installation as a sulphur cap compliance option has risen exponentially over the last 18 months, with recent figures suggesting around 3250 ships are already fitted with an EGC system – 80% of them being open-loop. But shipping remains divided over their efficacy both in terms of commercial advantage and environmental protection. Matt Kenney asks whether commercial motives are veiling a dirty secret, or is the environmental case for scrubbers really getting stronger?

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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.

Guide to port call optimisation

Guide to port call optimisation

Port call optimisation is a concept that is rapidly gaining ground across the maritime ecosystem. There are a growing number of projects, companies and technologies in the space, but finding the right information or solution can be difficult. To help, we have developed a brief guide to port call optimisation, explaining what it is, how it works, who is doing it, and where to get more information.

What is port call optimisation?

By continuously working to improve the efficiency of vessel port stays, it is possible to improve safety, reduce costs, and reduce emissions. In the majority of port calls conducted around the world, significant waiting times for vessels mean that fuel is needlessly burned to compensate. Port call optimisation is the process by which new business models, technologies, and operational techniques are developed and implemented to reduce those vessel waiting times to zero.

What’s in the guide?

  • A brief guide to what port call optimisation is, and how it is created real world efficiencies for terminals and carriers.
  • A breakdown of how port call optimisation works, and how data harmonisation and digitalisation help break down the operational silos that lead to inefficiency.
  • Notable case studies and real-world examples including how Maersk apply the principles of formula 1 to their port calls, and how the Port of Rotterdam reduced port waiting time by 20%.
  • An index of the most promising port call optimisation projects around the world with details of how to find out more and get involved.

Download the guide

Our seafarers deserve action on DG fires

Our seafarers deserve action on DG fires

Have you ever had to fight a fire at sea? I’d hope that very few people have had to do so. It is one of the most terrifying situations to be involved in. Imagine if part of your house was on fire and the only way of extinguishing it was by the occupants alone. No fire brigade, no external help; just you and whatever equipment you happen to have.

Fires at sea have always been a terrible threat and a seafarer’s worst nightmare. The minimal training combined with a ship’s basic firefighting inventory means most vessels are generally ill-equipped to tackle anything larger than small carboniferous fires.

This has been made tragically evident this year with the number of dangerous goods (DG) related fires onboard ships. Whilst the crew’s efforts to bring these fires under control and prevent loss of the vessel is commendable, they simply should not have been put in the situation in the first place.

From the vessel side, the crew have very little input into whether DG containers are loaded or not. Provided the containers have the correct markings, the correct manifests and are loaded in the correct position in a container fit for carriage – they likely meet the requirements of the shipping companies safety management system and can be loaded.  

Properly marked and manifested DG containers give the vessel a fighting chance should a fire or spillage occur. Not an ‘even chance’ by any means, but at least the crew will know what substances they are dealing with and can determine the level of risk. Could they fight it or are the substances so volatile that the risk is too high?

It is why the IMDG code has been iterated repeatedly since its introduction in the 1960s. Properly packaged and manifested dangerous goods can be carried safely onboard merchant ships. What happens if a DG container is mis-declared (or hazardous contents not even declared at all) and accepted for carriage as a general container?

Provided the mis-declared container behaves like a general container, then the ship, shipper and shipping company are all lucky. Nothing untoward occurs and the cargo arrives at its destination. However, we’ve all seen what happens when the luck runs out.

Shipping companies are angry about the frequency and severity of container ship fires, and rightly so. Apart from the incalculable human cost, the financial cost of a capital asset being damaged by fire is felt in both time and money. The Maersk Honam fire, for example, has put a brand new vessel out of action for over a year, with the general average claims expected to be one of the largest on record.

As a technology company, we’d love to be able to say that there is a technological solution to this issue, but as with most problems in the shipping industry, it is a process change that is necessary.
Shippers need more oversight and stiffer penalties when they are found to be flaunting a carriers’ condition of carriage. Spot checks of cargoes at the port of loading are touted as an option, similar to how VGM checks were initially adopted.

From the vessels’ side, there is little more that can be done that isn’t being done already. Most ships require a crewmember to be present when loading DG containers to ensure they are loaded in the correct position with the correct placards.

Whilst technology is not yet a solution, it should be an aid to better carriage of DG cargoes. Most stowage planning software integrates DG segregation rules, and apps such as Exis Technologies Hazcheck DGL Lite can confirm and dispel suspicions of incorrect placards. At Intelligent Cargo Systems, we’re augmenting our cargo operations monitoring platform CargoMate to allow the crew to notify the carrier immediately if there is a DG discrepancy (more to come on this later this year).

Technology or not, container ship fires demand our attention. We owe it to our seafarers to fix this, or it will be a shame that the industry will have to carry like on-load lifeboat hook testing or the rapidly growing seafarer mental health crisis.
I vividly remember being suited up in a firefighters outfit with breathing apparatus pressurised, waiting for the order from the Master to enter a side-passageway thick with heat and black smoke. Thankfully, that situation was resolved before we made the entry, but all I remember thinking was “I never want to do this for real”.

The seafarer mental health crisis runs deeper than training

The seafarer mental health crisis runs deeper than training

Seafarer mental health is a hot topic right now, and rightly so. When you consider the many dangers that come with working on a ship, it is incredible to think that suicuide is the leading cause of death at sea. Statistically you are just as likely to develop a mental health problem ashore as you are at sea (around 25% of us in any year), but the suicide rate at sea is nearly four times higher than ashore. It is clear from those statistics that what’s lacking is intervention rather than prevention.

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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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What technology is the next generation of seafarers expecting?

What technology is the next generation of seafarers expecting?

The future of seafarers?

Millennials are everywhere, we are now the largest generational cohort in the workforce and maritime is no exception. We have infiltrated shipping companies around the world with our skinny jeans and snowflake attitudes, both at sea and ashore.  But just as those of us in the “me me me” generation are considering moving out of our parents’ homes, there is a new kid on the block.

Those born in the late nineties and early noughties, known as Generation Z,  are now entering the workforce in droves. This new generation has no memory of a time when the United States was not at war with terrorism, they saw their parents go through the 2008 financial crisis, and they don’t remember the days when you had to make a choice between being on the phone or being on the internet. To celebrate the arrival of our young colleagues into our industry I’m taking a break from hand-roasting coffee and shaping my beard to ask what technology will this new generation of seafarers expect?

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The Curious Case of the Missing Ship

The Curious Case of the Missing Ship

Many ports are getting smarter, but ships are not yet fully-integrated into most smart port collaboration platforms.  Matt Kenney takes a look at why, and asks what shipping can do to bridge the divide.

Earlier this year I attended a port innovation symposium where an international group of port and technology thought leaders discussed current and future trends in digital port operations.

I listened to speakers describe port collaboration systems, port community systems, terminal operating systems, and the transposition of data into new, more secure formats like blockchain. All of these technologies are convening, if not yet conspiring, to deliver solutions for the lean, digitally-enabled maritime supply chain of tomorrow. Although opinions differed on methods and timescales, the speakers did agree on the notion that we are amidst a tectonic shift in port value chains. Enabled by Industry 4.0, this shift will bring new efficiencies to the quayside, hailing a fundamental change in attitude towards intermodal port supply chain partners.

However, as the discussions began to conclude, I sensed something was amiss. Indeed, I felt there was an elephant in the room: a top-level, international collective of thought leaders from the cutting edge of port technology and innovation, had astonishingly, failed to mention one word: ‘Ship’!

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Nevermind the blockchain, here’s the real issue…

Nevermind the blockchain, here’s the real issue…

It’s a fascinating concept isn’t it?  The idea of a database that can not be changed, can never be corrupted (morally or otherwise), is completely secure and yet available for public consumption at any time.  Every single transaction, be it monetary or otherwise, is verified by multiple nodes around the world, and only once that transaction is verified is it considered legitimate and its details permanently added to the record.

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Why data projects fail in maritime

Why data projects fail in maritime

Data has been hailed as the technological saviour of maritime, with the potential to solve just about every problem shipping faces. The current reality however, is that a lot of data analytics projects fail, sometimes spectacularly, a problem that appears to be particularly prevalent in maritime. Here are three reasons why your upcoming data analytics project might fail, and what to do about them.

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