Flag states and classification societies have increased their use of remote surveys in reaction to coronavirus pandemic restrictions
The coronavirus pandemic has driven shipping to implement remote inspections and surveys for class, flag and charterer requirements. More processes are easily completed using remote technology, but several challenges remain.
The Bahamas Maritime Authority (BMA)’s Inspections & Surveys Department remotely inspects ships under its flag to reduce Covid-19 risks. BMA technical and compliance officer Captain Frank McNulty says remote technologies enable robust inspections and will be used in shipping for the next two years and possibly longer, even when the Covid-19 threat has receded.
“It is likely that some aspects of remote inspection will continue,” Capt McNulty tells Maritime Optimisation and Communications. “It is important we carefully examine those aspects that have worked well and those which have proved less successful.”
He says it is straight forward to examine equipment and the structure of a vessel via a camera. “If images are taken from multiple viewing points, it is possible to build up a comprehensive picture of the situation on the ground,” he explains.
“Engine floor actuations can be taken on a mobile phone using WhatsApp, while an iPad is pointed at the control system to verify that a quick-closing valve is actually indicating ‘closed’ or that a generator has stopped functioning following a simulated trip of the system.”
Documentation can easily be viewed on shore through screen sharing, enabling inspectors to verify the ship is in possession of all necessary certification and publications required by the registry to be verified pre-inspection. This includes onboard seafarer certification.
“Samples of certificates of competency or national endorsements are easily verified, as are proof of medical fitness or specific training,” says Capt McNulty. “Safe manning levels can also be checked against the muster list for adequacy. A whole host of activities can be assessed remotely.”
Items such as work schedules and rest hours can be verified. Inspectors can remotely interview seafarers privately to discuss any Maritime Labour Convention-related issues, their understanding of general safety culture and familiarisation with systems.
“When it comes to operational assessments, all types of drills and machinery tests can be carried out on camera,” says Capt McNulty. “They can be viewed by the inspector who can also check machinery space conditions along with risk and safety actions to verify the function of critical equipment in real time.”
Other routinely inspected records can also be checked remotely, such as marine pollution controls, safety procedures and training.
“It is also possible to drill down into maintenance records and company support information,” Capt McNulty continues. “Furthermore, various aspects of navigation, life-saving, and fire safety and security can all be satisfactorily investigated remotely.”
However, challenges for remote inspections include assessing the human aspects of the vessel such as bridge response, resource management and using technology throughout the ship for long periods without recharge.
“Technology also depends on the strength of wifi and bandwidth available, and it can be difficult to visit remote locations on the vessel where the signal is weaker,” says Capt McNulty.
“The state of the structure and draught marks can be difficult to ascertain, but pre-planned and dated photographs help to indicate condition. We find that battery power on remote devices can be an issue, and so we recommend using power banks.”
Devices that are intrinsically unsafe would not be allowed to check cargo tanks on gas and oil tankers, “but that would equally be an issue during live inspections,” he says.
“Mature companies all have seamless lines of communication between, and among, shore and shipboard personnel, and their own internal audits and management reviews ensure the systems and procedures we witness during an inspection demonstrate a continuously improving safety picture,” says Capt McNulty.
Classification societies are also implementing remote surveys on ships to reduce the risk of a surveyor becoming infected, investing in internet of things (IoT), unmanned inspection units and remote support technology.
Lloyd’s Register product manager Alexander Steel confirms the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the adoption of remote inspection and surveys. “We are at the start of this journey, on a route to a digital-enabled future,” he says. “With more ships with IoT solutions, there will be more opportunities for transformation using data and applications.”
In 2020, around one-fifth of all ship surveys by Lloyd’s Register were carried out remotely. “We have seen a 25% increase in remote surveys because of Covid-19,” says Mr Steel. “Now one-third of our surveys are done with some form of remote technologies.”
There are several reasons for implementing remote class surveys, including reducing inspection costs, minimising travel and the people on board, surveying inaccessible locations and for urgent requirements. “Remote surveys reduce a ship’s time in port when loading or unloading is time-sensitive,” says Mr Steel.
He also sees challenges in implementing remote surveys. These include “connectivity throughout a vessel and ship-to-shore” he explains. Others are maintaining high standards, technical quality and survey preparation by crews.
Lloyd’s Register has a pragmatic approach to whether remote surveys are appropriate. The society evaluates ship connectivity, considers input from crew and third parties and provides a network of support to surveyors. It also needs to demonstrate equivalence to physical attendance.
Crew are key for surveys and the process of introducing digital class. “Crew needs to adapt to changes for remote surveys,” says Mr Steel. They will be vital for collating information for data-enabled compliance, as are regulators. “We need a clear framework for digital services and remote surveys,” he says. “What is important is keeping the priority to improve safety of ships and seafarers, improving efficiency and reducing the environmental impact.”
Classification society ClassNK passed a milestone in February 2021 when it granted its first remote survey (RMSV) notation to a K Line newbuilding pure car carrier. LNG-fuelled Century Highway Green was the first vessel on ClassNK’s registry to be marked with RMSV notation. This ship was completed by Imabari Shipbuilding’s Tadotsu Shipyard in Japan.
ClassNK verified this vessel was in line with its Guidelines for Remote Surveys version 2 guidelines, published in January 2021.
To meet these requirements, K Line strengthened infrastructure for onboard and ship-to-land communications beyond that of conventional ships. It expanded onboard wifi including on the cargo deck, in the engineroom and LNG fuel-related equipment compartment.
K Line introduced wireless communications equipment in explosion-proof areas and a 4G/LTE network connection for personnel and operational requirements in coastal coverage and in ports.
Alexander Steel presented remote survey technology during Riviera’s IoT solutions transforming the maritime industry webinar, held on 5 March 2021 as part of Vessel Optimisation Webinar Week