All aboard: transforming crew welfare with digital

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Digital technology is transforming the maritime sector in the Middle East. It has improved communications at sea, enhanced navigation, helped shipping companies address regulation and cut costs. We investigate how digital is also playing a key role in improving crew welfare.

One of the big driving factors of digital transformation has been companies wanting to enhance end-user experience for employees in the workplace. They want to give them a user experience, devices and apps that are comparable to their personal use at home. Companies find that it enhances staff productivity and has a positive effect on morale, too.

The same is true for staff who work at sea, and technology is now almost as prevalent on board ships as it is on land. According to the Futurenautics Crew Connectivity 2018 report that surveyed 6,000 seafarers, today’s crew is a technology-literate workforce, and 88 percent of survey respondents said they use technology, understand how it works and were capable of helping others with technology. This is a significant number in a traditional industry.

The technology experience even extends to influencing their choice of employer. In 2017, 75 percent of seafarers say that connectivity and technology at sea influences their choice of employer, with 92 percent of them saying it influences their choice strongly or very strongly, says the Futurenautics report.

Futurenautics also found that in the three years between 2015 and 2018, connectivity to the Internet at sea doubled in some shipping sectors, even tripled in the case of bulk carriers. This connectivity has a tangible effect on crew welfare. They are able to access on-board entertainment, browse the Internet and keep in contact with family and friends all from their cabins. Bring Your Own Device is commonplace on ships, with the average seafarer bringing their own tech devices on board: 72 percent bring smart phones and 58 percent bring laptops.

Enabling better safety, improved welfare, greater efficiency and morale

The 2006 Maritime Labor Convention (MLC2006) enshrined in law certain rights for seafarers, including crew access to communications – but the extent to which a maritime company now embraces digital transformation and enables connectivity on board directly influences welfare and more.

In addition to the basic goal of making on-board life more similar to that on land, ship-to-shore Internet connectivity can also create improvements in morale, less social isolation for crew members and subsequent worker retention. The 2017 Seafarers Happiness Index produced by the Mission to Seafarers found a growing link between onboard connectivity and seafarer happiness levels. Overall, happiness levels rose from 6.25 in Q4 2017 to 6.69 out of 10 in Q2 2018.

On-board safety is of course an additional element of crew welfare, and digital connectivity is helping there, too. Connected ships that monitor, analyze and communicate data in real time can enable higher levels of human performance on board and help reduce the gap between safety targets and current situations.

The maritime industry presently has a crew fatality rate ten times that of OECD best practice figures, and maritime companies can use digital tools to drive significant reductions. For example, many fatalities on board ships are the result of collisions, and improved digital navigation systems and automation have been shown to reduce this risk.

On-board health also enhanced

Digital technology also can help improve crew health and well-being. The MLC2006 obliges shipping companies to provide crew with “access to prompt and adequate medical care while working on board” and “medical care as comparable as possible to that which is generally available to workers on shore.”

Telemedicine can help ships deliver this care. Medical diagnosis without a doctor and the right diagnostic equipment on board can be a complicated process, and continuing a voyage if a crew member is taken ill can lead to their condition worsening. This could result in ships having to divert or even arrange a medical evacuation, leading to major costs and delays. The International Maritime Health Association (IMHA) has found that one in five ships has to divert due to crew illness every year, at an average cost per ship of $180,000.

The maritime professionals’ trade union Nautilus International found in a recent survey that 98 percent of seafarers believe increased telemedicine availability on board ships would not just improve crew welfare, but actually save lives at sea.

The security factor

There is also a security aspect to maritime digital transformation and crew welfare. Digital tools that enable remote operations mean security issues on board ship can be resolved without the need for intervention or physical attendance by crew members. Some maritime companies are also already experimenting with facial recognition and biometrics tools to help ensure smoother and faster security checks of crews in ports, again designed to enhance crew members’ working lives.

Overall, shipping companies can reap big benefits from improved crew welfare, and digital technology can be the driver of those benefits. Having connectivity and access to digital tools on board help improve crew morale, reduce social isolation and improve crew retention. End-user experience is at the heart of digital transformation, and it can have a profoundly positive impact on staff working in a maritime environment.

Middle East and Africa shipping companies are experiencing a technological revolution that will change traditional working practices forever. Digital tools and solutions are delivering a range of benefits, which include increased efficiencies and vital cost savings, lower emissions, increased visibility of cargo and enhanced crew welfare. Read more about this sea change in our whitepaper, Sea change: How digital is transforming shipping in the Middle East and Africa.

Sabah Zouaoucha
Sabah Zouaoucha

Sabah Zouaoucha is Business Development Manager within the Satellite Solutions group. She is responsible for developing the satellite solutions business with SITA customers and supporting Russian customers for international needs in the MEA region.

Sabah has held various other positions during her more than 15 years with the Orange Group, including Commercial Management Controller, Commercial Performance Manager, Contract Manager and now Business Development Manager. She has a Master's Degree in Financial Management from the University of Lilles III.