More investment in digital technologies is required to improve onboard crew welfare as thousands of seafarers remain stranded at sea by coronavirus
As the number of deaths from Covid-19 worldwide surpasses 500,000, there are calls for more to be done in maritime to improve the safety and mental health of seafarers.
A new report highlighted the lack of investment in the digitalised technologies in shipping, compared to other sectors.
It is estimated there are more than 200,000 seafarers stranded at sea after completing their contractual work, but unable to return home due to global travel restrictions.
In this environment, Inmarsat published a new report focusing on the way technology can improve mariners’ safety, health and welfare at sea.
Welfare 2.0: How can the next generation of technology enable better crew safety, health and wellbeing at sea was prepared by consultancy Thetius for the satellite constellation owner.
Inmarsat Maritime president Ronald Spithout thinks digital technologies are needed more than ever before.
“We are at a point in time when lack of shore leave, unplanned contract extensions, fear of job loss and separation from family are weighing heavily on seafarers worldwide,” he said.
“Crew welfare is being left behind in the technology stakes and much more needs to be done to look at how it could help improve the lives of seafarers,” said Mr Spithout.
Part of the solution is using digital technology to monitor the health of seafarers and another aspect is to provide better connectivity to mariners.
“Technology cannot provide a ‘silver bullet’. However, its role is vital in embedding policies and practices to enhance safety and wellbeing on board,” said Mr Spithout.
Welfare 2.0 report was published on IMO’s Day of the Seafarer on 25 June and examined the technologies that are being proven and tested for enhancing crew connectivity to their family, friends and society.
This Welfare 2.0 report explores the underlying factors affecting crew safety, welfare and learning, and highlights those companies working to address the pain points.
“Data-based tools test what does and does not work for the ‘human element’ and track changes over time,” said Mr Spithout.
He said much has changed on global shipping since Inmarsat started working on the report, in 2019.
“When we first discussed this report last year with the author and the welfare organisations and charities we work closely with, none of us could have foreseen the impact that Covid-19 would have on the world, shipping, seafarers and their families,” said Mr Spithout.
In response to this report, Inmarsat is planning to launch a crew welfare open innovation challenge, with Shell Shipping and Maritime and Thetius.
“This is a corporate start-up collaboration programme aiming to promote and nurture digital crew wellbeing solutions,” said Mr Spithout.
Investments in crew welfare start-ups pale in comparison with those in vessel management technology, said Thetius founder and managing director Nick Chubb.
Start-ups focusing on issues like welfare and safety have attracted only US$2.25M in investment since 2010. This compares to US$9.6M for ship performance technology start-ups.
These sums are tiny in comparison to the estimated US$3.8Bn that is estimated to be spent on shipmanagement software each year.
The Welfare 2.0 report strongly recommends the value that data models that capture, store and analyse factors contributing to seafarer health, welfare and safety, can have in shipping.
“Technology development is vital if the industry is going to start to eliminate the issues we currently face with crew wellbeing,” said Mr Spithout. “It is imperative that all stakeholders now come together to create and work on common platforms to collect data, anonymise it, share it and use it to identify wider welfare trends.”
In the report, Mr Chubb cites one key insight as an alarming disparity between cardiovascular-related deaths at sea and available information, support and tools that minimise risks and deal with emergencies.
The report shows how fleet managers could look to invest in various digital seafarer monitoring and awareness tools specific to cardiovascular health.
Some owners have responded to Covid-19 outbreaks by investing in telemedicine services. For example, more than 200 ships have already signed up to a new Covid-19 video consultation service from Vikand, facilitated by Inmarsat Fleet Connect bandwidth and artificial intelligence from start-up FrontM.
In another example, start-up Motion Ventures has repurposed a financial compliance tool to support secure healthcare monitoring for seafarers at home, on board or in transit.
The Welfare 2.0 report explores possible consequences of the coronavirus for seafarer training, with the closure of education facilities encouraging faster uptake of remote learning and development of virtual reality (VR) for tutorials.
Shipmanagers Wallem and Anglo-Eastern and Star Bulk have deployed virtual training from OMS-VR to learn about dangerous activities.
UK-based Seabot XR is developing ship-specific VR and augmented reality training and familiarisation, accessible to seafarers via their smartphones.
Downloadable toolboxes, bridging the gap between seafarers and vessel safety, are also starting to emerge.
For example, the Scoutbase platform allows crew to offer feedback anonymously of life on board to build a picture of emerging safety issues.
Maritime start-up Big Yellow Fish creates a net safety score and uses gaming technology to reinforce desirable behaviours.
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