Borinken Marine Group demonstrates how tug owners can improve short-range communications across the fleet using 4G wifi technology
Tugboat owner Borinken Marine Group (BMG) has extended wifi technology for its short-range communications requirements in the Caribbean. Its tugs provide port operations and salvage services in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
BMG needed cellular communications to manage these tugs and for crew requirements. It wanted to equip its vessels with high-speed, cost-effective and reliable wifi that would cover coastal areas even in weak mobile phone coverage. It turned to Microwave Vision Group (MVG)’s NeptuLink wireless communications for wifi connectivity to its eight tugs and two barges.
BMG’s first experience with NeptuLink was in September 2017 when Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, causing massive destruction and power outages. BMG moved offices and needed to upgrade its mobile phone communications, says BMG IT manager Victor Iglesias.
“NeptuLink cellular connectivity was a significant factor in our ability to communicate with the tugs,” he explains. Two units were used to restore wifi and manage tug operations including mobilising tug Storm to assist drillships to safety during Hurricane Maria.
This success led to BMG installing NeptuLink on a vessel when it expanded the fleet in October 2018, acquiring tug Helen.
“Since we were satisfied with NeptuLink’s performance, we decided to install it on all our tugs in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands,” says Mr Iglesias. This has been achieved and enables BMG to use cloud-based fleet management software Helm Connect to manage the vessels’ regulatory compliance.
“Reliable wifi connectivity on every tug is critical from an operations standpoint"
“NeptuLink provides a secure, reliable and easy-to-use internet connection for all our tugboats,” Mr Iglesias explains. “Reliable wifi connectivity on every tug is critical from an operations standpoint since BMG depends on Helm Connect to manage and access remotely compliance certifications, maintenance records and inventory.”
BMG uses NeptuLink to monitor usage history and provide connectivity to crew, which Mr Iglesias thinks is essential to the company’s operations. “Employees are the biggest asset we have,” he says.
BMG would have four crew on a tug for emergency response, salvage operations or offshore work. Mr Iglesias says these jobs can be strenuous and, at times, dangerous, which means crew need recreation time.
“During off-watch and relaxation periods, crew members have access to streaming TV, films and can use the wifi on their mobile phones to stay connected to loved ones while they are away,” he says.
NeptuLink delivers continuous high-speed internet connectivity of up to 100 Mbps over a range of 20 nautical miles offshore. SIM cards can be used for crew connectivity and there are no service fees. End-users have their own data plan and can decide how much allowance to purchase.
Other wifi deployments
MVG also supplied NeptuLink to Bourbon Group to equip national salvage tugs in France with 4G connectivity. These are Abeille Bourbon in Brest, Abeille Languedoc in Boulogne, Abeille Liberté in Cherbourg and Abeille Flandre in Toulon.
A second NeptuLink was installed on Abeille Bourbon in 2016 dedicated to crew communications, enabling the first to be linked to the onboard computer network for operational data, video and voice communications.
MVG also installed NeptuLink on France’s first floating wind turbine, Floatgen, to provide backup communications in case of a link breakdown. Floatgen was towed into position in October 2017 by Boluda France tugs VB Croisic and VB Ouragan, which Boluda said was a technical and maritime challenge.
Before the 5,000-tonne floating turbine was operational and a cable laid to shore, NeptuLink was the only communications link with the turbine.
NeptuLink is also used on vessels operated by Louis Dreyfus Travocean during cable laying and has been installed on a vessel that shuttles crew to offshore oil and gas production platforms in West Africa.
Buzz Wireless also provides wireless 4G connectivity to tugs and other vessels. Its latest technology is Hubba X4 Global, a global dual-SIM mobile broadband router. It is a multiband, multi-protocol LTE data router designed to operate in a maritime environment.
Hubba X4 Global has a range of 20 nautical miles offshore and links to onboard computers and wifi routers. It can deliver up to 100 Mbps of connectivity to a vessel. Hubba X4 Global can interoperate with an onboard VSAT system to switch seamlessly when a vessel is out of range of shore based networks.
Buzz also offers Hubba X4 Duo with two SIM slots and interoperation with VSAT and Hubba X4 Go with a single SIM card.
NeptuLink has two antenna transmitter-receivers that connect directly to distant 4G networks, or 3G and Edge networks where 4G is not available. It provides wireless access to everyone on board and maintains connections regardless of humidity, sea salt and spray, or rolling and pitching motion. It includes a SIM card and a modem for 4G connectivity. This modem is connected to a gateway computer and a wifi router via an Ethernet cable.
Operations: Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands
Formed: 2006 by Ruben Iglesias and Carlos Acosta
Services: assisting ship docking and unberthing, dry bulk transportation, salvage, emergency towage, offshore assistance
Fleet: eight tugs, two barges
Latest addition: tug Helen purchased October 2018
Communications: seven NeptuLinks
Fleet management software: Helm Connect
When tugs sail beyond the limits of coastal 4G networks, they need higher bandwidth satellite communications. This can be delivered over L-band with Inmarsat’s FleetBroadband or Fleet One, Iridium’s Certus and Thuraya’s services. Their distribution providers have encountered increasing interest for satellite communications equipment and connectivity.
Tug operators are also installing very small aperture terminal (VSAT) technology on their vessels to provide more bandwidth for operational data transmissions, voice over IP and crew welfare services. VSAT can be provided in Ku-band or Ka-band radio frequencies on a regional or worldwide basis.
This demand for VSAT was something of a surprise for Telenor Satellite, which has seen greater numbers of tugs and workboats connecting to its Ka-band coverage in the European region from the Thor 7 satellite.
“We were surprised to see VSAT demand from relatively small tugs and workboats as they usually operate close to shore,” says Telenor Satellite director of data services Jan Hetland. “We originally thought they would not really consider VSAT.”
In the last 12 months, Telenor Satellite has added small fleets of oceangoing and coastal tugs to its VSAT services.
Thor 7 provides broadband communications coverage primarily for maritime from Svalbard, Norway and over the Barents, Norwegian and Kara seas. Coverage stretches over the North Atlantic, west of Iceland to south Greenland and to Newfoundland. “We also have coverage in the Mediterranean and Black Sea,” says Mr Hetland.
Inmarsat provides Ka-band connectivity worldwide using its Global Xpress I-5 satellites. Inmarsat Maritime vice president Eric Griffin says vessels can access these services using 60-cm diameter antennas with a below-deck modem and network service device. Tug owners can use this connectivity for monitoring onboard equipment, sending reports to clients and ports, for crew welfare and downloading operational information, such as weather reports and navigational charts.