Teekay Offshore’s Regis Rougier explains why VSAT has become a critical operational requirement on shuttle tankers
As its latest generation of shuttle tankers become something akin to offices at sea, so VSAT has become a central component of Teekay Offshore’s operational profile. The technology ensures the vast volumes of data sent to shore for remote monitoring and diagnostics are transmitted successfully and without hindrance.
Teekay Offshore’s fleet of shuttle tankers operates 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. Mr Rougier explains that critical VSAT connectivity is now relied upon for operations and crew welfare. “Our ships are floating offices at sea,” he says. “If VSAT stopped working then our captains would have problems as the IT would stop working.”
This is because the IT systems onboard shuttle tankers are supported, and onboard systems remotely monitored, from shore. “Our tankers are receiving and sending information to shore for business and social applications, thus, VSAT has become more critical on our ships,” says Mr Rougier.
Teekay Offshore is at the forefront of the adoption of digitalisation and internet-of-things (IoT) technology in the tanker sector. It is investing in the remote monitoring of onboard systems, such as dynamic positioning (DP), 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 communication systems and VSAT in particular to tanker operators is increasing predicated on a drive to optimise operations, coupled with the fact that regulators now demand 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…This is the direction the industry is going in and we need to be leaders,” he adds.
Teekay Offshore uses VSAT to support crew from shore, including machinery maintenance. For example, engineers can send images of onboard equipment that they need help maintaining and receive advice from shore. In some cases, equipment manufacturers can remotely diagnose issues and rectify them, or provide advice to onboard engineers.
“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.”
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 [in terms of] 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 that is 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 their social media and communications, including some video calls to shore, voice over IP, instant messaging and emails. For this, Marlink will offer to 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, which delivers a permanent bandwidth boost for the tankers. Furthermore, Sealink VSAT is being installed 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.
A next step in the roll-out of the technology involves considering deployment of onboard IT management services 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 be advantageous for Teekay Offshore because it reduces the burden to manage onboard IT and it links to the ship 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.”
Having tested Palantir services on some of its shuttle tankers Mr Rougier notes “we are considering Palantir for all of our ships”. This will enhance cyber security on the shuttle tankers, reducing 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 cyber risks.
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 sufficient 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,” he says.
Elsewhere, Sovcomflot has selected Orange Business Services’ VSAT service for five oil tankers, owing to its coverage in Russia’s northern seas in the Arctic. VSAT hardware has been installed on shuttle tankers Mikhail Ulyanov and Kirill Lavrov and will be supplied to three more Arctic tankers later this year.
The owner selected the VSAT service to improve safety and optimise navigation. It will be able to transfer more data between its ships and its shore-based fleet managers and enhance crew connectivity to help maintain morale.
Sovcomflot will use the network to transmit telemetry data from onboard cameras and sensors to its fleet operations centre in St Petersburg, Russia.
This will enable the owner to monitor the condition of its fleet in real time and optimise routeing, based on factors such as weather or sea-ice movements. It is also extending its corporate network to these vessels to increase communications between managers and crew.
Orange Business Services senior vice president Richard van Wageningen explains that intelligent satellite selection will automatically connect Sovcomflot ships to the highest quality network, “[enabling] Sovcomflot to support crew welfare and safety while ensuring business continuity”.
Teekay VSAT applications
Operational voice communications
Crew social media
Remote IT monitoring & diagnostics
Document transfer & e-mail
Digitalisation & IoT
Planned maintenance system updates
Crew internet access
Seafarer voice services