A Maersk Tankers vice president has said his company was forced to use pen and paper to keep its operations running during a cyber attack that debilitated its IT infrastructure.
Maersk Tankers chief strategist Søren Meyer said that the move to an analogue system prevented chaos when his company was caught up in the cyber attack that saw multinational company AP Møller-Maersk hit with the NotPetya virus in June.
“Of course, [Maersk] got attacked during the summer, and Maersk Tankers, being part of the IT plan of AP Møller-Maersk, we also got hit. And yes, we have been able to conduct our business without any of our customers feeling that. It comes back to the craftsmanship of our people and the hard work of our people being able to do things with a pen and paper,” Mr Meyer said.
AP Møller-Maersk’s container shipping arm is the largest in the world and the business as a whole is thought to have lost in the vicinity of US$300M when the attack hit 17 of its container ports and sent computers and systems offline for more than 48 hours.
In September, months after the attack occurred, AP Møller-Maersk sold its Maersk Tankers division to the AP Møller Holding subsidiary APMH Invest in an all-cash restructure totalling US$1.1Bn that will see the fleet owned by consortium -- with majority stakeholder being AP Møller Holding.
Mr Meyer described witnessing the attack in his offices at Maersk Tankers and cited well-practiced safety procedures that prevented the attack from spreading and potentially taking out key navigation and life-support systems on Maersk’s tankers.
“So we saw our screens just close down one-by-one in the office and one of the things for Maersk Tankers that really was the best part from our side is that the vessels were disconnected from the oil platforms. So we could shut down the IT to the vessels and none of the vessels got infected. At least on our side, we had that protection in place to make sure that the vessels didn’t get attacked.”
Mr Meyer stressed that the danger of working with combustible products demanded well-practiced emergency response procedures in the tanker sector. These, he said, were key to preventing the worst-case scenario of a ship’s systems being attacked.
“We handled it by applying the stringent procedures put on us by being in this market," Mr Meyer said.
"As a tanker carrier, you cannot be in this line if you do not have very strong covenants around safety, very strong covenants around business continuity, regardless of what kinds of things are happening. Because your customers in this industry, if you are a commercial or technical operator, demand that of you. The industry has very high standards because the product that we are carrying is a high-risk product if something happens.
“If you are attacked in whatever shape or form, it [must be] the same manual and the same procedures that you pull out of the drawer. That is what you practice in the safety rooms, that is what you practice in the business continuity rooms. It helped us that everybody knew exactly what they should do at any given point and there was no [pointing fingers] about who should do what.”
Mr Meyer was speaking at a recent International Maritime Industry Forum seminar. IMIF council member Alan McCarthy told Mr Meyer that AP Møller-Maersk was owed a debt of gratitude by the shipping industry for its transparency during the biggest cyber attack the shipping sector has faced to date.
While Maersk Tankers did not face the same logistical issues as AP Møller-Maersk's container shipping business, AP Møller-Maersk chief commercial officer Vincent Clerc told Lloyd's List this week that his company not is expecting to resume normal operations until the first quarter of 2018, some six months after the attack occurred.