With pandemic-related travel restrictions accelerating the use of remote dynamic positioning trials, experts at Riviera’s European Dynamic Positioning Conference discussed the impacts and concerns that have arisen during a time of rapid technological change
Kongsberg Maritime DP Product Advisor for maritime operations Captain Harry Verhoeven said his company is looking to replace paper-based verification methods with its Dynamic Positioning Digital Survey (DPDS) application. Kongsberg has carried out two pilot trials with the application and has received an AiP from classification society Bureau Veritas.
Capt Verhoeven said the application is meant to “improve the quality and consistency of the DP annual trials to unprecedented levels” and build crew competence in important DP operations. The application does not replace an annual DP trial, however. Instead, Kongsberg aims to use the application to cut owners’ operational expenditure by supporting and augmenting remote versions of the trials, thereby eliminating some of the costs associated with onboard trials such as travel, accommodation and visa procurement.
While annual trials are conducted, the DPDS application digitises all the data gathered during the tests, carried out in accordance with IMCA M 190 and IMO MSC.1/CIRC. 1580 Guidelines for Vessels and Units with Dynamic Positioning (DP) Systems, to verify the performance and redundancy of the vessel-specific DP system.
Turning to the growth of autonomous operations in the sector, Fugro USV Policy and Public Affairs Advisor Ross Macfarlane stressed the importance of safety and gathering operational data.
With all sizes of vessel taking on autonomous or ’smart’ operations, Fugro offers various configurations of remote autonomous platforms. Fugro’s Blue Eclipse, for example, is capable of launching and recovering remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and drones. But these smart systems still require human operators to ensure safer operations, Mr Macfarlane said.
"One of the things people might be scared about with seeing these remote, autonomous technologies come out is the safety element, the safety of operations," he said. "And I think, when you say remote and autonomous technologies, [people] have an image of a robot that can do the same things as humans do with no oversight. But that’s not what we’re talking about here," he said.
Mr Macfarlane said the smart systems are designed to work alongside human operators to enhance their capabilities.
"So, we’re taking people out of harm’s way while still allowing them to do the same job, more safely," he said.
"People and skills are still core to what we are doing here” said Mr Macfarlane, “We need to make sure the workforce is taken along with these developments to make sure their skills are relevant to oversee this equipment, what it’s doing, to maintain that level of safety.”
Data collected from remote vessels and operators working in offshore environments -- on platforms in energy fields, on vessels and using USVs -- is fed data through satellite communications which is then relayed to the shore. The vessels are connected with smart systems on board and capable of taking decisions but only at levels seen as ’enhancements’ to human decision making.
"The capabilities are yet to be discovered just how much these vessels are able to do, but it’s an exciting opportunity and we need to take it with open arms to see just how much we can push this technology," he said.
With such data-intensive remote operations come the risk of network storms, an element of cyber security of particular relevance to offshore and maritime operations, that IMCA technical advisor Graeme Reid discussed.
Network storms are an accumulation of broadcast and multicast traffic that consumes network resources to render the network incapable of transporting normal traffic.
Due to most people’s unfamiliarity with the security issue and their difficulty to detect, network storms often go undiagnosed, categorised by users as glitches, anomalies or human error. Vulnerabilities to network storms can stem from a number of issues, from configuration to flawed system designs and hardware failures, and their effects are crashed controllers as well as equipment freezing or dropping offline.
Mr Reid said IMCA intends to form a workgroup to produce new guidance on the subject.
In addition to technological challenges such as network storms, Singapore-based M3 Marine Expertise (M3ME) managing director Joey Fisher gave an overview of the human failings that can accompany new remote verification methods.
The company has assisted clients with remote DP trials during the pandemic due to the difficulty or impossibilities of travel for surveyors.
Mr Fisher noted that the most popular method for remote DP trials among clients is using evidence gathered by crew in the absence of a witness. However, he was quick to underscore that these types of trials do not currently meet industry standards and that there remains no accepted definition for ‘remote DP trials’ contained within IMCA M 190 guidelines.
Mr Fisher also aired concerns shared by many in the industry over remote trials placing added burdens on already overstretched crew and pointed out that crew do not have the expertise of trained surveyors to undertake DP trials. Further, he said the length of the trials and the volume of data gathered (typically 10 GB worth based on a single test) made conducting the trials in absentia problematic. Mr Fisher said the data review process for surveyors drastically exceeds the time spent when they are able to go on board a vessel to witness and undertake testing first-hand and that the remote version of trials also encounters delays as crew and surveyors go back and forth to clarify procedures and results.
As a response to these issues, Capt Verhoeven volunteered that Kongsberg’s application has in-built features to help surveyors and crew overcome some of the issues that Mr Fisher and his team have encountered in performing remote DP trials.
Still, Mr Fisher warned that there are questions over the integrity of the data-gathering process. M3ME encountered instances where known issues were hidden, tests repeated until satisfactory results were obtained and vessel managers asked M3ME to exclude select findings in a report.
He added that the discussions around remote DP trials ignore the IMCA DP Practitioner Accreditation Scheme. The scheme aims to improve consistency in the conduct of the trials and standardise knowledge for DP subject matter experts.
As an overarching point, Mr Fisher called for a greater recognition of the role of the independent surveyor, saying that he does not believe that remote DP trials, in their current form, represent a step forward for the sector.
“[Even] if carried out in accordance with a robust procedure, it’s actually an inefficient process and a step backwards," he said. "Real-time monitoring is impractical in most cases due to bandwidth. Digital trials are a data-centric method of validation that can be used to support test results... however the method requires a process to address known concerns.”
Despite the shortcomings Mr Fisher outlined, IMCA’s Mr Reid said “remote and autonomous operations are here to stay."
“We should strive to ensure quality whether in DP trials or marine assurance," he said, "not reduce the quality of offering. If we as an industry reduce that, we’ll all have to deal with greater demands from our clients.”
Riviera Maritime Media will provide free technical and operational webinars in 2021. Sign up to attend on our events page