Owners of offshore support vessels and energy companies expect rising demand for bandwidth for data monitoring, optimisation and crew welfare requirements
Offshore support vessel (OSV) owners have invested in VSAT to improve crew welfare services and transmit greater levels of operational information. More OSV owners are adopting internet of things (IoT) technology, using more bandwidth between ships and shore.
Owners require faster connectivity with greater data plans for more frequent data transmissions, downloading information for optimising operations and enabling more online applications for crew.
These were some of the key trends identified by OSV owners at a roundtable discussion in February organised by Riviera Maritime Media and Inmarsat. Chief executives and technical managers discussed their requirements, challenges and potential solutions for delivering higher levels of connectivity to vessels in their fleets.
OSV owners see VSAT connectivity as essential for vessel operations and also envision a time when increasing use of IoT will enable vessel crewing and onshore staffing levels to be reduced.
P&O Maritime Logistics needs higher bandwidth and connectivity speeds for both its crew welfare services and operational needs. It is also considering linking to coastal and offshore mobile phone networks using 4G and long-term evolution (LTE) technology.
P&O Maritime Logistics head of IT Kris Vedat would like to know where future 5G networks will fit into this technology mix.
“Connectivity is key for crew welfare,” Mr Vedat said. “People want connectivity speeds like they get at home, but that is not possible.” There are other issues influencing the levels of connectivity available to crew, clients and third-party engineers.
“Balancing cost-effective speed is key,” said Mr Vedat. It is about using dynamic solutions, innovations and having alternatives in case of VSAT issues, with the ability to scale connectivity up and down rapidly.
“We are looking to deploy 4G/LTE, segregating data and having more of this going over these connections,” said Mr Vedat. “We need data. More IoT data means more bandwidth demand, analytics and client demands. It is about ensuring every vessel is connected.”
Information over VSAT and future 4G networks goes both ways as shore managers can send advice to support onboard decisions. Weather and ocean information can also be downloaded on vessels to assist in voyage planning between offshore facilities and ports.
Vessels are “taking various data to optimise routeing between rigs” said Mr Vedat. “We are monitoring operational efficiency, looking at IoT and building predictive maintenance models.”
Seacor Marine uses digitalisation and satellite communications for data monitoring and intelligent operations. “We will need to work more intelligently to reduce manning on and offshore,” said Seacor Marine Holdings president and chief executive John Gellert. “We will need more data. We are getting data to support business and using tools to be less labour intensive,” he said.
Seacor Marine International senior vice president and managing director Anthony Weller confirmed how data is prioritised over VSAT.
“It is important to have reliable and high speeds of connectivity,” said Mr Weller. “We prioritise certain data – fuel consumption, condition and performance anomalies – with high priority data sent to our offices over VSAT,” he explained.
Once at Seacor’s offices, data anomalies trigger alarms and enable technical managers to deal with any issues remotely or provide support to onboard crew.
“When engines are not running correctly, there is a warning for the technical department, so it can be addressed to avoid catastrophic events,” said Mr Weller.
Additional satellite communications capacity is required for data as more sensors are installed on onboard systems. Seacor’s bandwidth requirements are rising because of data flows to and from its vessels. “There is more data and more demands on that data,” said Mr Weller.
More VSAT is also needed when vessels are upgraded with hybrid propulsion as the additional onboard systems produce more condition and performance data to be transmitted to shore.
He is looking for a solution to transfer higher data volumes for the same cost, as the OSV market remains in the doldrums following a five-year slump in demand. “We need cost-effective communications,” said Mr Weller.
Seacor also requires VSAT with higher bandwidth on its crew transfer vessels for passengers on board to access online services.
“We transport more than 100 passengers on board our vessels and need high-speed communications,” he said. “We need this to increase as it is contractual. It is important to have high speeds and reliability.”
Satellite connectivity to its vessels is usually reliable, although Seacor has encountered issues with VSAT communications from vessels when they are moving between satellites and different beams. “Switching between satellites is a problem,” said Mr Weller.
Fleet Xpress upgrade
Reliable VSAT connectivity is also important for the Bourbon group, which operates one of the largest fleets of OSVs worldwide. It is investing in Inmarsat Fleet Xpress satellite communications for more than 100 of its vessels.
“The time has come for operational intelligence and connected vessels”
Bourbon is migrating ships to Ka-band satellite connectivity by installing new hardware on board by 2021, using Inmarsat’s FleetBroadband as L-band back-up to the Ka-band connectivity.
Bourbon chief executive Gaël Bodénès said, at the Annual Offshore Support Journal Conference in London in February, VSAT connectivity will enable the group to optimise operations and reduce costs. “We have to adapt and use technology to connect our fleet so we can transfer more offshore functions to shore.”
Bourbon will use this connectivity to support predictive maintenance, automate more onboard operations and improve crew welfare. “The time has come for operational intelligence and connected vessels,” Mr Bodénès said.
Bourbon is deploying its smart shipping action plan, which is structured around a new vessel operational model. It includes onshore support from a new remote monitoring centre and leveraging digital and connectivity tools to reduce fleet operating costs.
Bourbon Marine & Logistics chief executive Victor Chevallier said this operating model brings challenges as well as benefits.
“With IoT there will be step change,” he said. “Our fleet is always connected, gathering operations data. We need reliability and cyber security for around-the-clock connectivity.”
Some of the data will be sent in real-time, other data packets hourly and some daily. “We are building big data and implementing this on our vessels,” said Mr Chevallier. “There is more automation, more control and need for data. We need to target more useful data and prioritise its transfer over VSAT and FleetBroadband,” he added.
Swire Pacific Offshore is developing ways to collate and transfer data from its vessels to shore over VSAT. It will use IoT data to optimise operations and reduce expenditure.
For Swire Pacific managing director Peter Langslow, connectivity reliability is important and so is prioritising data. “This is about creating efficiency and meeting charterer needs,” he said. “It is not just a data dump. It is about what is reliable and will make a difference.”
“We need to ensure vessels are fit for purpose and use data to make better decisions,” said Mr Langslow. “It is for effective maintenance requirements and building efficiencies.”
Shipmanagers need cost-effective satcoms
For shipmanagement companies involved in offshore vessel operations, VSAT connectivity is important for crew welfare and providing data to owner clients.
Anglo Eastern Offshore marketing executive Helen Bancewicz said vessel owners want data and productive seafarers for effective business.
“Crew is the most important to us,” she said. “Communications speed and reliability for crew is important.” But so are costs and having adequate cyber security, such as firewalls and antivirus in place. Ms Bancewicz is interested in communications technology that could reduce connectivity costs as Anglo-Eastern is looking at “how to future-proof” communications.
Columbia Shipmanagement (CSM)’s energy division is also interested in different communications technology for crew welfare and data transmissions.
CSM Energy managing director Niki Makri said its vessel communications are through VSAT and 4G networks when available.
“When using IoT data and having more automation on board – we need to be sure we have the reliability and try to balance crew and technology working together,” said Ms Makri.
Energy companies demand higher bandwidth
Energy companies chartering offshore support vessels have increasing requirements for satellite communications bandwidth for operational data. Representatives from Shell and Total provided a charterers’ perspective of their requirements.
Shell global marine manager Bo Jardine said bandwidth use depends on availability. “We will take what we can get,” he said. With increased data, tracking and monitoring requirements, Shell could “be pushing the boundaries” in technology and communications, he said.
Mr Jardine expects vessel owners to have “fully digitalised fleets” with data monitoring onboard systems, such as engines, and tracking deck cargo. In the future this could include tracking liquid bulk and personnel.
“All of this will require more bandwidth,” said Mr Jardine, adding it is a question of “what is reasonable and what can be achieved when every vessel is connected”.
Shell requires operational data every 15 minutes in some cases to monitor vessel performance. “It helps us see how the charterer is improving performance versus what it says on paper,” said Mr Jardine.
Total’s marine superintendent for Danish offshore oilfields Ejvind Olldag agreed with Mr Jardine about the group’s bandwidth requirements. “We take what we get and if we need more, we can look to 4G,” he said. “There are a lot of applications, such as tracking work permit systems and monitoring cranes,” he said. “We are looking for data every 10-15 minutes from vessel systems.”
Total is using 4G and LTE technology on platforms in the North Sea and its connectivity depends on the fibre optic cable network, said Mr Olldag.
Key discussion points
The main satellite communications issues discussed during the roundtable included: