Communication is today’s highly acclaimed topic, and it is ever evolving with the ongoing developments, digitalization and technological models.

It has changed drastically over the years, shaping an inevitable demand among seafarers and crews, which is something quite normal as not to make this working environment feel any less than other working environments. 

In this issue’s main story, #RobbanAssafina sheds the light on communication in shipping, in the presence of today’s bundles that facilitate the use of #satellite communication, looking through the industry’s feedback towards this huge transformation, and the advancements done in favor of reaching the expectations of young seafarers.

Maritime Connectivity
Communication at sea had changed a great deal recently, which made satellite companies work harder on improving communication services onboard vessels. Experts believe that the maritime and energy markets are moving into a third age of digital connectivity. This change has been driven by a combination of latent demand and new technologies arriving on the market. 

Technological Challenges
With the emergence of new services, companies are putting more satellites in the sky, predicting that there will be a more than 35% annual compound increase in the bandwidth available in the next 10 years. 
Chris Watson, Vice President – Marketing & Communication of KVH Industries, speaks of a huge future for the satellite industry in light of a lot of new technologies, but the key remains in the ability to integrate that on board ships in the presence of these different options. He explains the role of the service provider in that aspect: “KVH is able to look at these different pieces of technology and work with customers to determine what is the appropriate solution. We have a global backbone based in GEO technologies, but we can bring in LEO, MEO, 5G, #WIFI and deliver integrated solutions. The challenge for us is to be able to work with customers to have a better understanding of their needs and not simply assume that one size fits all. We’re definitely working in that way and talking to customers about bringing together the best technologies in a unified package.

Chris Watson

Watson believes that as new technologies are emerging, customers’ expectations are changing as well. For example, fleets were content with slow band-width services with high costs, but that was not utilized for different connectivity aspects. So as the speeds go up and the cost goes down, the expectation is that companies like KVH need to be able to deliver that. 


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High Quality Maritime Data
So selecting the best partner is a key decision for shipowners and operators, says Marlink’s President, Tore Morten Olsen, since data quality is a key issue for maritime IoT and data management solutions providers too. It is the cornerstone of data-driven technologies installed onboard ship. “Implementing a true maritime data as a service solution will overcome many of the data challenges that owners face and in the process enhance and improve operational efficiency, increase vessel safety, simplify compliance and drive better environmental performance. Marlink is the largest independent provider of digital network solutions to the maritime industry; it’s a position we take seriously in meeting client demands as they evolve.”

Tore Morten Olsen

Olsen explains the critical component of #digitalization, one which is often underestimated by shipping industry stakeholders, which is data quality and security, as end users access the services they need to remain safe, efficient and compliant in a complex business environment. This is something that many stakeholders are talking about it, but only a few understand or accurately measure. High quality maritime data ensures that the information collected from sensors, navigation systems and other sources is trustworthy and fit for efficient decision-making.

Onboard Internet Access
Due to the change of mindset amongst modern seafarers caused by the emerging technologies and the digitalization era, today’s internet is a necessity for seafarers in helping them to stay connected even onshore.
Daria Boiko, Distribution Channel, IEC Telecom Group, highlights the quality of internet connectivity at sea as it varies across different companies. She refers to the Seafares’ Happiness Survey where some seafarers complain about wildly different experiences, not only when comparing different shipping companies but often even within the same fleet. Some report insufficient allocated Wi-Fi data which prevents them from staying connected or accessing the online resources they need.Connectivity onboard is so important to ships’ crew that they are choosing employment on vessels based on internet speed now, Boiko states, and crews believe LEO connectivity holds the answer to their problems: “The recent Seafarer Happiness Report states that optimism surrounding seafarers about Starlink services will provide the access they crave at costs which they can afford. Hopes are very high!”

Daria Boiko

As a result, it has become clear that the provision of high-quality internet access will be essential to recruiting and retaining the next generation of seafarers according to Olsen, as it will enable crew members to stay in touch with their families and friends, access news and entertainment, and maintain a sense of connection with the world beyond their vessel, reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness. This will also enhance seafares’ skills to stay up-to-date with industry advancements, says Olsen, allowing them to access online training and professional development resources while at sea.


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Satisfying Young Seafarers
Crews’ earlier expectations did not exceed the ability to do a phone call, but this has changed now especially for young seafarers who are used to be connected all the time says Watson, and fleets need to recognize that well, otherwise there will be crewing shortage: “The ability to deliver connectivity, social media, video chats and all other things done onshore is inevitable,  but it’s becoming challenging for the fleet as they always need to consider what should be provided for the crew with suitable cost. With social media, crew can know what is going on aboard other ships and vessels since people know each other in the industry. We’ve seen statistics that a significant majority of seafarers are choosing the vessel that offers the best connectivity. And it becomes a factor in their decision of where they want to go to work.”

Amid the continuous technological development, some shipowner/managers are still using old communication methods and with high costs for their ignoramus of the latest programs. Watson says that statistics show 1 out of 5 vessels are equipped with high-speed broadband internet and satellite, and 4 out of 5 vessels are still operating with slow and expensive connectivity which restricts the work of fleet operators. He continues: “At KVH, our aim is to bring these services to these vessels with affordable prices. Young seafarers are expecting to be connected, and we need to work with our customers to help identify the best solution using the technology that is available now.”

Improving Digital Access
In its approach to improve access to digital services, Marlink recognized some time ago that digitalization in maritime is a process that benefits from close co-operation between solutions providers, OEMs and shipowners/managers.

Our Digital Partner Program is designed to help end users improved access to digital services.  We are using our position as the leading independent provider of ICT services to maritime and energy markets to improve access to digital tools for all our customers. With our own equipment installed on around 25,000 vessels, Marlink represents a significant conduit for compliance, safety and value-added data services.”

Olsen explains that this program aims to forge links with some of the leading manufacturing, safety, certification and service providers in energy and maritime including classification societies, flag states and insurers. It aims to shorten digital service delivery timelines for clients and provide access at maximum efficiency, through close collaboration between the relevant technology/engineering departments, all built on protocols for security, communication and standards.

Cyber Security 
Despite all the facilities satellite connectivity provides, there’s still the importance of applying cyber security to internet programs. Crew communication goes far beyond connectivity alone, advises Boiko, “It is a complete system that requires centralized management, secure cyber protocols, user-friendly access for mariners and resilient back-up solution when the main network is down.”

 These features are expected from any service provider, according to Watson, since any fleet should expect that the provider is going to be in a range of cyber security risk mitigation tools, and that can range from cyber security within the network itself of the satellite onshore to cyber security that is brought onboard ship whether VPNs or firewalls and more extensive components.
He explains: “As vessels become smarter and more digital, they should be protected in the same way the office network is protected because of the risks of malwares that could cripple the company once the data gets locked. So, there’s no perfect solution, but the solutions integrator should be able to help mitigate that risk. And moving towards autonomy, you need to have reliable network and connectivity to be able to protect an autonomous or remotely managed smart vessel.” 

Training and Awareness
Olsen, however, highlights awareness in this matter as a very significant aspect in cyber security, and the importance of enhancing training programs to tackle threats, describing the maritime industry as stuck in a time-warp when it comes to cyber security: “This isn’t to say that solutions are not available, or that companies don’t adopt them – they are and they do. But somehow the song remains stubbornly the same; threats proliferate, attacks increase and what should be the most important link in the chain actually remains the weakest. User behavior and lack of cyber threat awareness are at the root of most incidents, both through access to high-risk websites and applications as well as the misuse of resources, such as using business infrastructure for personal purposes.”

He adds: “It is clear that since one of the fastest growing threat vectors is human behavior – just as it was five years ago – then there is still a need for better training, clearer procedures and improved guidance for online behaviors. To tackle this, companies must develop and deploy awareness and training programs that can be rolled out at scale in any language with regular refresher sessions.”

Robban Assafina, Issue 88, Nov./ Dec. 2023, Edition Story, pg. 85


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Issue 88 of Robban Assafina

(Nov./ Dec. 2023)


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