Shipmanagers highlight the importance of VSAT to crew welfare, connectivity and efficient vessel operations
Seafarers look for full internet access when deciding which vessel to work on. Mariners are becoming more selective and connectivity provisions are a major deciding factor. Which is why shipowners, managers and operators with VSAT installed have an advantage when recruiting and retaining the best-trained and competent seafarers.
It is cost-effective and business-efficient to retain a happy crew as there is a lower turnover of staff, reduced recruitment costs and training requirements. Crew retention is increasingly important as managers tackle the challenges of an ageing workforce and recruiting seafarers to crew new ships entering their fleets.
Seafarers want to use their own devices on vessels in the privacy of their own cabins during their off-duty time for social media and family communications.
This connectivity needs to be cost-effective and cyber secure, says Thome Group president and chief commercial officer Claes Eek Thorstensen.
“To attract the best calibre of seafarer, shipmanagers need to provide uninterrupted connectivity on board,” he tells Maritime Digitalisation & Communications. “The VSAT providers that can offer this at affordable prices will ultimately win a lot of business from the world fleet.”
It is not just VSAT investment required. Ships should also have infrastructure that supports wireless communications in the accommodation, at least in common areas and preferably with access in seafarer cabins.
“A key requirement which many ship operators and managers need from VSAT providers is a fully integrated crew wifi element in all onboard systems,” says Mr Thorstensen.
“A key requirement which many ship operators need from VSAT providers is a fully integrated crew wifi element in all onboard systems”
Wifi stations around a ship can be linked to onboard VSAT through a dedicated router or an integrated modem device in the below-deck electronics rack.
Seafarers use the wireless network to access social media, internet applications and media content. “As mostly millennial crew members, having grown up in the digital age, they want full internet access at sea just like they have come to expect when they are ashore,” says Mr Thorstensen.
His colleague, Thome Group chief marine human resources officer Hanus Mikkelsen, highlights the importance of vessel connectivity for seafarer wellbeing. He says onboard connectivity “allows seafarers to keep in contact with their loved ones and keep updated on what is going on back home”.
Seafarers want to use email, news services in their native languages, educational media, voice over IP, live messaging and electronic banking. For entertainment media, vessel owners can download films, video and prerecorded sporting events to ships.
Owners can segregate crew communications from the operational requirements of the ship’s broadband and request that seafarers pay for the bandwidth they use for social media, live messaging and online applications.
“Integrating their VSAT systems with robust cyber security software is a must”
An essential requirement for shipowners and managers is that connectivity should remain cyber secure, regardless of the applications seafarers use. “Providers must not lose sight of the fact that in making ships connected there must be safeguards in place against cyber attacks,” says Mr Thorstensen. “Integrating their VSAT systems with robust cyber security software is a must.”
The need for secure connectivity and crew internet access was highlighted by V Group chief commercial officer Martin Gaard Christiansen at Riviera Maritime Media’s Annual Offshore Support Journal Conference, held in London in February this year.
Mr Christiansen said vessel owners and managers need to focus on the latest crewing issues, including rising demand for better connectivity, maintaining onboard safety and adopting more digital applications. He believes owners need to “respond to market changes and optimise vessel performance” to remain competitive, which can be achieved by retaining well-trained and experienced crew that can operate vessels effectively and safely.
Mr Christiansen believes a challenge faced by vessel owners and managers in a competitive market is using vessel connectivity to adopt ship intelligence and data analytics delivered through cyber-secure VSAT.
Shipmanagers use VSAT to operate their clients’ vessels safely, efficiently and profitably. They use business applications enabled by VSAT, including updating navigation systems with the latest charts and weather forecasts, data monitoring and managing onboard software.
VSAT helps shipmanagers deliver value and effective management to clients, says MSI Ship Management head Sanjay Ramnathan. “VSAT is helping us achieve this by providing us with a dependable and high-performance communications service for safe and efficient business operations.”
Mr Ramnathan says VSAT services need to be cost effective and competitively priced for vessel operators, managers, and seafarers who may be expected to pay for the connectivity. MSI uses Satcom Global’s Aura VSAT on ships it manages, which he says is “at a very competitive price”. Mr Ramnathan expects this Ku-band VSAT will be installed on more ships as they are added to the MSI-managed fleet later this year.
“VSAT provides us with a dependable and high-performance communications for safe and efficient business operations”
Providing value to shipowners and welfare for crew are also reasons why Zodiac Maritime uses VSAT on board ships it operates. Communication needs to be reliable, consistent and without restrictions or delay to be valuable to both operator and crew.
Zodiac provides VSAT as it values the workforce on the ships it manages and charters in. “We have a responsibility to ensure the welfare of our clients’ valued workforce and we appreciate that access to communications is a key part of that,” says an unnamed Zodiac vessel manager. “We want the crew we manage to be able to communicate with the wider world without restriction or delay.”
VSAT also provides Zodiac with technical advantages on its ships as it can monitor performance, optimise efficiency and maintain the expectations of its customers. “It is essential that technology on board our vessels performs to the highest standard and we are happy with our VSAT choice,” says the manager.
Parakou Shipping invested in VSAT for the vessels it manages to provide stable and effective crew welfare. Parakou fleet director Moh Chong Boon says Ku-band VSAT provides seafarers with the online experience they increasingly expect on ships.
“An important driver in our adoption of VSAT was to provide our crew with reliable and consistent connectivity,” he says. “A guaranteed information rate commitment gave us confidence the crew will have an improved experience while sailing for extended periods.”
VSAT services are supported by Satcom Global, which supports the fleet manager’s migration to Aura services. “VSAT is already making a huge difference to vessel connectivity,” says Mr Moh Chong Boon, who expects to install more terminals this year.