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No longer cast adrift: how satellite technology is connecting ships, making them safer and more efficient

No longer cast adrift: how satellite technology is connecting ships, making them safer and more efficient
November 27, 2012in Technology2012-11-272013-03-18technologyen
how satellite technology is connecting ships, making them safer and more efficient
no longer cast adrift: how satellite technology is connecting ships, making them safer and more efficient

The international shipping industry carries the vast majority of the world’s goods. Approximately 90 percent of global trade is carried by over 50,000 commercial vessels that sustain import and export activity around the world, 24 hours a day. More than 150 countries are served by the global maritime industry, and it employs in excess of a million seafarers. 

The industry is undergoing a period of change. The global economic downturn is forcing the sector to rethink its business processes, overall efficiency and economies of scale. As emerging nations continue to open up, more and more markets and economies require the safe transit of products and resources. So in the long run, growth prospects for maritime companies are encouraging, especially considering that transport over the oceans is the most environment-friendly transport method (measured by CO2 emission per kilometer ton).

However, time-honored challenges like vessel safety, weather patterns, navigational changes, crew welfare and regulatory compliance remain. Progressive maritime companies are sourcing new technologies to meet these tests head-on and transform their traditional ways of working to become more effective and efficient.

safety first 
Operating at sea many miles from the nearest port means focusing first and foremost on vessel safety. This remains as true today as it ever was, with shipping companies required to comply with International Maritime Organization (IMO) legislation relating to navigational chart updates to ensure safety.

By 2018, all ocean-going vessels wherever they are in the world must comply with IMO Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS) regulation. In fact, as of today, all newly-built ships are required to be ECDIS-compliant prior to launch. The IMO ECDIS legislation is designed to ensure that all ships work from the very latest available navigational charts and admiralty updates at all times, to give them the utmost crew and vessel safety. 

“The impact of ECDIS on a maritime company’s core safety metrics can be huge,” explains Filip Vanheer, Global Business Development Manager for Maritime Satellite Solutions at Orange Business Services. “Research has shown that ECDIS can dramatically help companies in safety terms – to the tune of one human life per vessel per thirty years. Furthermore, the navigational benefits offered by up-to-date, ECDIS-compliant charts can include a third fewer groundings and a third fewer grounding-related fatalities. The safety case is compelling.”

less paper, more possibilities
ECDIS replaces traditional paper charts with up-to-the-minute, electronic versions. Navigation officers have used paper charts for many years, but they are a high maintenance tool. Navigation officers typically spend 40 to 60 percent of their time maintaining hard-copy maps and charts.

The IMO has left maritime companies with a choice of how they take on the latest ECDIS-compliant charts. They can receive them on disk or USB memory stick in port before embarking, or, for truly up-to-the-minute data, they can connect their vessels to the global network via technologies such as very small aperture terminal (VSAT) satellite.

“VSAT has helped turn navigational charts into as much of an on-demand good as music or movies. Navigation officers can download these so called pay-as-you-sail (PAYS) charts on demand, giving them greatly increased flexibility and operational efficiency,” says Vanheer.

enhancing operations, improving crew welfare
VSAT on ships works by using stabilized antennas on board to ensure connection quality. This gives them bandwidth of between 128 kbps and 8 Mbps, making it possible to integrate vessels at sea as virtual nodes within the corporate network. 

Communications can now be improved throughout the ship, bringing a reduction in operational costs. Ship-to-shore calls are typically expensive exercises, but VSAT lets officers make free, on-net calls to central headquarters via voice and video over IP. It also provides crew members with enhanced quality of on-board life, by being able to keep in touch with friends and family.

“People who don’t work in the maritime industry perhaps don’t appreciate that; until now, it has been very difficult for ships to stay connected to shore,” Vanheer continues. “They have always had to make do with pretty old fashioned communications tools and a high level of isolation. Fast connectivity over VSAT is really helping to change all that.”

seamless satellite coverage
One of the difficulties involved in connecting vessels at sea to IP networks is that they are nearly always on the move. Ships often move between various areas of satellite coverage during a voyage and, historically, connectivity was lost when sailing between one satellite beam and another, forcing the crew to manually intervene. 

To prevent this, Orange Business Services offers Automatic Beam Switching (ABS), a standard service that provides beam switching at both satellite and teleport levels without any intervention of the on-board crew. Routing this data stream over the Orange Business Services global network via VSAT also ensures data security at all times.

High-speed connectivity, improved safety and regulatory compliance through ECDIS over VSAT are all essential to success. Orange helps maritime companies achieve these goals with its VSAT services over the global MPLS network. 

Shipping companies and vessels at sea can now enjoy unprecedented connectivity and communications wherever they are, with access to corporate networks and all the relevant business applications and tools. 

VSAT driving maritime companies forward

  • enables IMO ECDIS regulatory compliance
  • reduces on-board management and maintenance costs
  • allows remote monitoring of vessel systems
  • improves safety levels via real-time chart, navigational and weather updates
  • lowers voyage costs by allowing the choice of faster routes and reduced fuel usage
  • enhances crew welfare thanks to voice, data and the video-over-IP broadband connection

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