Connectivity and collaboration are crucial for boosting virtual solutions for crew welfare
Covid-19 has been a catalyst in boosting innovative technology solutions for crew welfare, with collaboration and connectivity advancements key for further developments.
These were some of the key takeaways from Riviera Maritime Media’s ESG’s human face: where crew welfare and technology intersect webinar, sponsored by Inmarsat, which was held on 31 March 2021 during Riviera’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Webinar Week.
Covid-19 has acted as a catalyst behind the growing availability of e-learning and training, tele-medicine and certification, said Inmarsat digital innovation partnerships Clara Wahnich.
She said “There are a lot of start ups, but also established companies providing a virtual solution around e-learning. Companies have amended business models to adapt to the needs of crew. We have seen companies move across from other sectors to maritime and a collaboration between service providers.”
Explaining the drivers, she said “Covid-19 has acted as a catalyst. if you can’t travel to a training centre, you need a virtual certificate and need to be able to maintain skills while at sea for long periods of time. There are growing expectations that those living at sea and on shore should be accessing the same services, supported by the arrival of a younger generation who are used to accessing services remotely. It has also required different ways of interacting with services, ie the younger generation is keener on video-based training.”
But Ms Wahnich points out that deploying virtual solutions for crew welfare comes with challenges, including under-investment, the need for evidence of value and collaboration, bandwidth requirements and an administrative burden.
She expands, “Some of these solutions that require high speed and a lot of data, may come across challenges with bandwidth and connectivity requirements. Also selecting these services and making sure seafarers engage with them can be an administrative burden for employers. We believe there are technologies and initiatives helping to enable the deployment of virtual solutions.”
She gives the example of having a dedicated bandwidth for solutions that require high speed and lots of data like remote learning. Because it is a separate pipeline, it will not interfere with vessel operations and “crucially is cheaper than a vessel update connectivity plan”.
This is an area Inmarsat is involved in. It is offering a free hotspot self-service crew wifi that it wants to expand as a portal for an ecosystem for third-party services. This will make it easier for shipping companies to find solutions and make them available for seafarers on their own devices, increasing engagement with these solutions, Ms Wahnich said.
Shell and Inmarsat have collaborated around innovative solutions for crew welfare. Ms Wahnich said “…increasingly challenges can be overcome and what is really key is collaboration across the whole sector to help prove the value of these technologies.”
Wallem Group interim chief executive officer John-Kaare Aune explained the challenges the company faced due to Covid 19: crew changes, medical support and onboard inspections and visits.
In terms of crew training, the company has been using online learning platforms, cloud simulators and performance management tools.
He said “We couldn’t get crew to come to our training facilities because of Covid. We have implemented different types of e-learning… which has been under continuous development. We have had a simulator set up in different locations, like in the Philippines but we have not been able to activate that because of the restrictions. So we implemented a cloud simulator, and we see that more and more throughout the industry, as well as bridge management training online.
Mr Aune said in terms of crew welfare, there is a focus on mental health in the industry, with Covid 19 providing additional strain and stress for seafarers, their concern for families, and concern with shore people visiting vessels. Lots of support has been given with different helplines, hardware and engagement between shore personnel and crew on a regular basis to address these issues.
Mr Aune emphasises “You need good communications on board for this and this is a very important factor for crew welfare. If they have good communications on board it makes it easier to be in contact with families and this is seen in the happiness index; [Wallen Group is actively involved in happiness index measurements] if they have good communications access on board, it is easier to stay in contact with families.”
He added “It is important when we talk about ESG that it is considered as an opportunity for seafarers and shore staff. The most important part for a ship manager and for a shipowner is to have good crew on board… look at it as an opportunity to get the best possible crew, to get the best trained crew and have a happy crew.” If the crew is happy, their performance will be much better as well.
Odfjell Ship Management, MPS, vice president Svend Foyn-Bruun underlined the impact of Covid and said that every owner’s primary objectives should be: keep crew safe and mentally fit, no Covid cases on board; keep families happy; maintain training and assessment (through webinars, Teams etc).
He emphasised “We must build crew loyalty, if we lose loyalty, they will leave us and then we have an even bigger problem. Our focus is to keep the crew happy.”
In his presentation he highlighted that international maritime societies must push national interests for “firm and simple rules to process crew changes” and added that vaccination “is the only way out and will requre public-private corporation supported by IMO and NGOs”.
Meanwhile, Anglo-Eastern Univan Group chief executive Bjorn Hojgaard looked to the future. “Taking a long view forward, what will it do to industry ability to recruit seafarers in the future? …Welfare and motivation in doing a good job involves autonomy, belonging and competence. Those three elements really go into being satisfied in any job.”
He highlighted the importance of communication and technology when it comes to crew welfare. “Trust is vitally important, the loyalty of people on board comes from trust and trust comes back to communication again, so the ability to actually communicate with crew has been absolutely crucial.
“Where crew welfare and technology intersect, technology is a catalyst to enable us to do some of the things at sea which are much more connected to how things are being done on shore, and in a few years, being at sea is not going to be vastly different compared with working in another continent or office.”
A poll among webinar delegates that asked: What is the biggest challenge in deploying crew welfare technology solutions on ships? saw 29% cite connectivity requirements and 29% refer to complicated administration and execution. Some 24% cited cost and lack of return on investment. 12% named a lack of suitable solutions, and 6% said weak regulation.
Commenting on this, Mr Hojgaard said “There is still a very small bandwidth we are having to live with at a relatively high cost, so I expect that the next few years is going to be quite disruptive to that space. Once we have more earth-orbiting satellites, with bandwidths maybe hundreds of megabits per second for every terminal and perhaps US$100-200 a month, it is going to really change that space. I think that will be coming in two or three years and all ships will have that - it is going to be a game changer.”
But Ms Wahnich highlighted how Inmarsat’s business model, where it works with a service provider, dealt with these issues. “The cost of airtime is included in the solution, so the shipping company does not have to upgrade, we can enable solutions that require high speed and lots of data, so the price per megabit is much, much lower than what it would be.”
Asked whether they had already trialled innovative crew welfare technology solutions, 57% of delegates said no and 43% said yes.
Provided with the statement: It is good for crew welfare on board to limit the number of hours the crew has access to the internet, 36% disagreed, 29% agreed, 21% strongly agreed and 14% strongly disagreed.
The importance of technology and communication in boosting crew welfare underpinned the key conclusions of the panellists.
Ms Wahnich said “I am intrigued about what I think is a misconception about the cost, I know it can be a challenge, but I think it is less and less of a problem… My message is it should not be an obstacle, there are ways around it and the priority is to collaborate across the industry.”
Mr Aune said his key takeaway was “the better connectivity we have seen, and which we will see even more of, should be able to provide better access to crew on board for better training opportunities and better opportunities on board ships. The increased focus on ESG in shipping industry is an excellent opportunity for all of us make sure different stakeholders are fully endorsing it and use it as opportunity to get support to provide better conditions for seafarers, so that we continue to recruit good well-qualified people.”
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Riviera’s ESG’s human face: where crew welfare and technology intersect webinar panel were (from left to right): Anglo-Eastern Univan Group chief executive Bjorn Hojgaard, Wallem Group interim chief executive officer John-Kaare Aune, Odfjell Ship Management, MPS, vice president Svend Foyn-Bruun and Inmarsat digital innovation partnerships lead Clara Wahnich