The digital world ground to a halt for a day last week for more than 25M people across the UK.
During a 24-hour period, the O2 mobile phone network failed and their customers were without 3G/4G and in some cases even call and text services. Networks in other countries were also affected by outages blamed on software issues.
Many were unable to access internet services for social media and electronic communications. And the outage impacted on business, too, as people were unable to process payments, complete financial transactions, or access bank accounts using their mobile devices.
For some, even text and phone calls were unavailable. This led to missed meetings, miscommunication and, in my family, stranded teenagers.
The world stood still for millions during the O2 outage of 2018, and there were calls from the public for viable backups should the situation arise again.
Many have never known (or have quickly forgotten) what the world was like before high-speed mobile data networks and the widespread use of mobile phones.
Some of us have become so accustomed to digital services and online connectivity that to be without those services for a day is virtually unimaginable.
Not so for seafarers around the world, however.
Those who work on board seagoing vessels face a level of restriction around their digital connectivity – if they have digital access at all – that would be unthinkable for many on land.
As mariners who cannot remember a time before 3G slowly become the majority in the sector, shipowners, managers and operators face increasing pressure to offer digital connectivity on their vessels, wherever they sail.
This, of course, represents another cost for owners at the same time they are facing mounting compliance costs and greater scrutiny around environmental regulations or finding it necessary to invest in digital vessel operations monitoring technology to remain competitive.
As is too often the case, business and operational requirements can be a barrier to the increased investment in crew welfare that digital connectivity represents. Unfortuantely, this means there are still far too many ships with no internet access for crew.
On larger fleets of ships, there is some metered connectivity that seafarers have to pay over the odds for – for many it is up to and over US$100 per month, an amount which in today’s digital world seems excessive.
Imagine going to work and your employer charging you for phone and internet access. If that seems unreasonable, imagine going to work without a broadband connection at all.
Millions in the UK have now faced for one day, a world of limited digital connectivity that is the reality that tens of thousands of seafarers face for months at a time while they work at sea.
As shipowners come to the end of another year, and look ahead to 2019, they should remember how important this connectivity is for crew who are away from family and friends for extended periods and the long-term financial consequences the industry will face if communications and connectivity is not improved quickly.
Without modern digital connections onboard its vessels, it is virtually unavoidable that ahipping will see a drain of experience and labour in an industry that is heavily dependent on its human resource.
If shipping is looking for a new year's resolution, 2019 should be the year of crew connectivity.