Teekay Offshore’s Regis Rougier explains why VSAT has become a critical operational requirement on shuttle tankers
Its latest generation of shuttle tankers are becoming offices at sea with greater volumes of data transmitted to shore for remote monitoring and diagnostics.
Teekay Offshore’s fleet of shuttle tankers operate in the North Sea, offshore Norway, Brazil and the east coast of Canada, transferring crude oil from remote production infrastructure to coastal terminals.
Its operations are becoming increasingly sophisticated and so are its IT requirements, says Teekay Offshore Logistics vice president for operations Regis Rougier. He explains to Maritime Digitalisation & Communications how critical VSAT connectivity has become for daily operations and crew welfare.
“Our ships are floating offices at sea,” he says. “If VSAT stops working our captains have problems as the IT would stop working.”
This is because the shuttle tankers’ IT systems are further supported, and onboard systems are remotely monitored, from shore.
“Our tankers receive and send information to shore for business and social applications, thus, VSAT has become critical on our ships,” says Mr Rougier.
“We need to be at the forefront of technology to remain competitive”
Teekay Offshore is at the forefront of adopting digitalisation and internet of things (IoT) technology in the tanker sector and is investing in remotely monitoring onboard systems such as dynamic positioning, engineroom machinery and cargo loading. It also relies on VSAT connectivity for running planned maintenance systems and business applications, email, document control, ordering equipment and daily reporting.
“We need to be at the forefront of technology to remain competitive,” says Mr Rougier. “We do not have a choice anymore, we need to do this.”
The importance of communications systems and VSAT in particular to tanker operators is increasing as owners optimise operations and regulators want regular reports.
“With digitalisation, more ship operations are becoming computer controlled or assisted,” says Mr Rougier. “The importance of VSAT is increasing every day as ships become more complex and there is more adoption of IoT.”
Tanker companies that want to be ahead of this trend need to invest in VSAT. “This is the direction the industry is going in and we need to be leaders,” says Mr Rougier.
Teekay Offshore uses VSAT to support crew from shore, including with machinery maintenance. Engineers can send images of onboard equipment that needs maintaining and receive advice back from shore. In some cases, equipment manufacturers are able to remotely diagnose issues, rectify them or provide advice to onboard engineers to assist them.
“We have arrangements with vendors so they can connect to systems on our ships for remote diagnostics,” says Mr Rougier. “They can identify issues and remotely deploy software updates or guide the crew for fault finding.”
“We need to be at the forefront of technology to remain competitive”
There will also be a steady stream of near-real-time data transferred from the new generation of shuttle tankers to shore, enabling more predictive maintenance.
“We will be able to review a lot of parameters on the ships and engineroom on emissions and propulsion performance,” says Mr Rougier. “We will monitor ships’ data on shore to optimise operations and report to authorities.”
Networks of wired sensors on tanker equipment will transfer performance information to an onboard server linked to the VSAT, which transfers this data to shore over Ku-band satellite links. This information will also be available to the captain and chief engineer on workstations.
Crew use VSAT for social media and communications including video calls to shore, voice over IP, instant messaging and emails.
“Our crew can use their own devices in cabins through wifi and VSAT to use social media and contact family and friends,” says Mr Rougier.
For this, Marlink can manage seafarer accounts, settings, onboard wifi and cyber security systems including content filters and firewalls using XChange onboard management devices.
In May 2019, Teekay Offshore renewed its contract for VSAT services with Marlink. This delivers a permanent bandwidth boost for the operating shuttle tankers and includes installing Sealink VSAT on six new E-Shuttle tankers under construction at Samsung Heavy Industries in South Korea.
Teekay Offshore started retendering for VSAT services in 2018. “We looked at many suppliers of VSAT and renewed with Marlink with an improvement in bandwidth and technology without needing to change our antennas,” says Mr Rougier.
Following tender document analysis, his team shortlisted four VSAT suppliers. “We had Marlink hardware already on board which was a big advantage,” explains Mr Rougier. “Because with anyone else, we would need to change the hardware.”
Teekay is considering deploying an onboard IT management service by Palantir, an affiliate of Marlink, across the shuttle tanker fleet. Palantir supports ship IT, including continuous monitoring, software upgrades, cyber security updates and remote diagnostics.
This would reduce the burden on Teekay Offshore to manage onboard IT and links to the ship’s VSAT.
“It is a one-stop-shop and is one interface between the communications and IT,” says Mr Rougier. “It is attractive from an IT perspective and it makes sense for the supporting interfaces.”
Teekay Offshore has tested Palantir services on some of the shuttle tankers “and we are considering Palantir for all of our ships” says Mr Rougier.
This will enhance cyber security on the shuttle tankers to reduce the risk of malware infection. The main IT servers are among other protection systems secured with firewalls and Teekay Offshore has also trained its seafarers to be aware of the cyber risks and prevent them from accidentally infecting ship systems.
However, Mr Rougier still thinks the human element is the biggest threat to cyber security on ships. “Concerns for us are when people, such as vendors and subcontractors, connect their own computers to the network,” he says. This could include laptops that do not have insufficient antivirus software. “Crew are aware of the cyber risks. I am working on making sure vendors and contractors are aware of the cyber risks too.”
Teekay VSAT applications
Euronav invests in e-learning
Euronav Ship Management Hellas has started using SQLearn’s e-learning courses and system for training crew on 52 vessels. It has installed SQLearn’s Dolphin library of electronic remote learning courses on these ships. Dolphin is a web-based e-learning system with STCW courses that cover national, international and flag requirements.
These assist Euronav to continuously provide crew with specialised training, says Euronav Ship Management Hellas fleet personnel manager Michail Malliaros. “Courses add to our ability of providing appropriate training to our staff and to operate in accordance with the highest standards of safety,” he says.