Vessel operators and crews in all maritime sectors are benefiting from Ku- and Ka-band VSAT and its applications
Shipowners, managers and operators will gain operational value from investing in the latest VSAT technology with secure connectivity and crew access control. Operational benefits from improved ship connectivity include enhanced voice and data communications between vessels and ports, remote IT and ship performance monitoring, having better voyage-related information on board, and improved crew welfare services.
From conversations with ship operators, seafarers, VSAT service providers and recent contract awards, it is clear that more vessel owners are recognising these benefits and crews are gaining from them.
Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL) is rolling out Inmarsat’s Fleet Xpress VSAT across the rest of its fleet of LNG carriers, tankers, dry bulk carriers and car carriers. The Japanese shipping group already has the hybrid Ka-band/L-band service on a fleet of more than 100 car carriers.
This decision will enable MOL to unroll its digitalisation strategy across the fleet, to deploy internet of things technology and employ data analytics, allowing MOL to improve safety and fleet efficiency, while reducing its environmental impact.
A spokesman for MOL’s IT management said VSAT is being further adopted “for email communication, sharing images between ship and shore and now for monitoring equipment.” He said Fleet Xpress will help MOL implement the new Fleet Optimal Control Unified System (Focus) platform.
MOL is adding applications from Mitsui E&S Shipbuilding and Weathernews on Focus to optimise fleet operations. Focus will include detailed voyage and engine data gathered from 150 ships, which will be stored in the cloud. This data will be available to build sophisticated analysis tools to improve operational efficiency and propulsion performance.
MOL expects more applications to come in the future. “We will continue to develop our use of satellite communications in the future to continue to digitalise our vessels,” said the spokesman.
VSAT can be combined with remote IT management to enhance the reliability of onboard computers and communications equipment. Norwegian ship operator Torvald Klaveness elected Marlink in January 2019 to provide VSAT services and Palantir’s remote IT management platform for ships it operates.
Sealink VSAT and L-band backup hardware and connectivity will be deployed across a fleet of 23 combination carriers and container ships. Marlink will deploy its XChange centralised communications management devices and Palantir KeepUp@Sea remote IT services on these ships.
Torvald Klaveness head of IT and development Lars Erik Luthman said standardising IT management and optimising vessel performance are key pillars of the ship operator’s digital strategy.
“With Marlink’s VSAT connectivity as a backbone, the scalable KeepUp@Sea solution will allow us to consolidate our IT operations on a single platform, reducing complexity, simplifying troubleshooting and ensuring that our software, licences and antivirus are always up to date,” he said.
“Through this we are looking to optimise IT management on board and ashore, improve stability and availability across our fleet of 23 owned and managed ships, and ultimately reduce overall operational expenditure.”
Transpetrol tanker crews use VSAT for operational and welfare applications
In another contract for Marlink, crude and product tanker operator Transpetrol renewed its investment in VSAT for its existing fleet and for two tanker newbuildings scheduled for delivery within 18 months. Sealink VSAT will boost crew welfare and enable Transpetrol to apply digitalisation solutions on very large crude carriers, Aframax and MR tankers.
Crew will have better access to online applications, email and data services through Ku-band VSAT and the L-band backup, said Transpetrol fleet manager Eirik Sanderlien, who added that VSAT is becoming essential to the efficiency of its business.
Communications is managed on tankers by XChange devices, which streamline data and voice connections and seamlessly switch connectivity between satellites and constellations.
Marlink provides SkyFile Anti-Virus and its new XChange Cloud, a secure and scalable platform for transferring and synchronising files between ship and shore. It also supplies SkyFile Mail for crew email and XChange Universal Remote Access, which enables shore staff to access onboard networks for IT maintenance and troubleshooting.
Swire Pacific Offshore’s former human resources director Colin Payne said onboard communications and internet access continue to be essential for improving crew welfare and maintaining their mental health. “Communications are important, but expectations need to be managed,” Mr Payne said, adding that real-time messaging and social media have positive and negative influences on mental health.
K-Line LNG chief officer Mats Sjostrand provided a seafarer’s perspective to what is important on board. “For a happy ship, the basics need to be right,” he said. This included payments, food, cabins, recreational areas and internet. “Efforts should be made to make internet the same connectivity as on shore,” he said.
“Efforts should be made to make internet the same connectivity as on shore”
Email is also a key element of crew welfare services. To cater for the growing demand for these services, China-based Marinesat, which provides VSAT services to 1,600 vessels, has added crew email services from UK-headquartered GTMaritime. Marinesat offers GTMaritime’s secure email and data transmission services.
Marinesat vice general manager Josh Suo said this strategic co-operation will enhance services for vessels in China and other Asian markets. “Together we can provide more integrated maritime solutions for shipowners worldwide, thus realising our vision of the intelligent ocean service platform,” he said. This agreement is GTMaritime’s first partnership within the Chinese market and opens access to other Asian markets.
Offshore windfarm support vessel operator Wind Energy Marine has combined VSAT and performance monitoring. It is using NSSLGlobal’s FusionIP VSAT for Ku-band based communications and online data transmissions. It is also using NSSLGlobal’s Oceanic Dynamics suite for centralised vessel performance monitoring and assessing vessel motion and impact forces on vessels.
“Oceanic Dynamics will be indispensable in terms of ensuring efficiency and consistent quality of our services, while the FusionIP terminal will allow us to stay fully connected to our shipping network at all times,” said Wind Marine Energy managing director Andrew Bagshaw.
FusionIP will automatically switch crew and passenger broadband communications between VSAT and cellular connectivity when close to shore. This includes a 60-cm integrated Ku-band antenna that also links to 4G and 3G networks, said global maritime sales director and chief executive of NSSLGlobal in continental Europe, Henrik Christensen. “Ocean Dynamics monitors vessel motion and impact and then returns this data to shore over VSAT or 4G/3G, depending on what is available,” he said, adding that bandwidth available over FusionIP VSAT is around 20 Mbps. “Near the coast this switches to 4G and bandwidth can go up to 40-50 Mbps,” Mr Christensen said.
NSSLGlobal acquired Station 711 from MX1, a subsidiary of satellite operator SES, in November 2018 to extend its reach into the global maritime market, said Mr Christensen.
Station 711 is an Inmarsat Tier 1 distribution partner and value-added reseller for FleetBroadband and Global Xpress Ka-band services. It provides coverage, installation and servicing of satellite communications equipment for shipping and vessel operators in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
“This acquisition consolidates our position as we service more than 3,000 vessels globally"
“This acquisition consolidates our position as we service more than 3,000 vessels globally with L-band, Ku-band and Ka-band services.” said Mr Christensen. NSSLGlobal took over all activities of Station 711 including smart@sea, crewtalk and Station 711’s customer network infrastructure.
Another merger in maritime communications was completed in December 2018 when Speedcast International acquired Globecomm Systems for US$134M to expand its presence in the maritime, government and offshore VSAT markets. Also in that month, Speedcast introduced its Cybersecurity as a Service solution to protect vessel and drilling rig owners, operators and managers from growing cyber threats.
This service defends maritime assets, detects and monitors threats and mitigates the risk of cyber attacks. Cybersecurity as a Service combines a unified threat management system and end-point protection. It can secure maritime and remote sites linked to online services over satellite communications.
Speedcast’s security operations centre proactively monitors the protection level of customer sites. It provides alerts and reports, then protects maritime assets from malicious threats. Cybersecurity as a Service runs on Speedcast’s integrated communication platforms, Sigma Gateway and Sigma Gateway Xtreme.