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Maritime Digitalisation & Communications

Five stories that marked the pace of digital change in 2018

Mon 24 Dec 2018 by Martyn Wingrove

Five stories that marked the pace of digital change in 2018

Editor Martyn Wingrove reviews 2018; a year shaped by cyber threats, accidents, changes in GMDSS provisions and increasing adoption of internet of things (IoT) technology.


Shipping prepares for cyber security enforcement

Shipping groups publish cyber security guidelines update

One of 2018's biggest challenges came from greater levels of vessel connectivity and increased digitalisation of maritime operations. That challenge is, of course, keeping operations cyber secure.

Our European Maritime Cyber Risk Management Summit, held in association with Norton Rose Fulbright in London in June gave shipping a forum to discuss these matters, and we have another coming up in 2019.

By then, shipping will be just 18 months away from including cyber risk mitigation in ship safety and security management under the ISM Code. This change into force on 1 January 2021 and requires shipowners to invest in secure software, threat mitigation, crew training and IT upgrades.

To aid their members in meeting the upcoming mandate, shipping organisations have brought in their own best practices for cyber security. Guidelines include the third edition of OCIMF's Tanker Management and Self Assessment guide and BIMCO’s best practice guidelines.

Classification societies got into the act in 2018, as well, by introducing class notations and guidelines to encourage owners and managers to adopt cyber security practices prior to any enforcement.

And a host of new cyber security products and services were also introduced with a maritime focus.


The rise of accident-prevention technologies

Threats of cyber breaches are worrying enough for shipping, but ship collisions and groundings remain the industry's greatest worry.

There were a string of ship collisions and groundings in 2018, increasingly involving container ships and passenger vessels

A number of new technologies have arisen to address the need for shipowners to adapt operations to prevent accidents.

Increased remote support from shore, improved e-navigation, sea traffic management and investing in better bridge systems, including radar and ECDIS, and simulator-based training are all examples of the trend.


IMO recognises Iridium in GMDSS modernisation programme

In 2018, there was a decisive change at IMO regarding the compulsory Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) provision.

For the first time since GMDSS was introduced 30 years ago, another satellite operator will be recognised to deliver this vital safety communications service.

The 99th session of the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), saw GMDSS recognise Iridium Satellite, with its low Earth orbit constellation of satellites, as a future provider of GMDSS, with Iridium Safety Voice, short-burst data and enhanced group calling services.

IMO’s committee replaced all references to Inmarsat with a “recognised mobile satellite service” in a raft of regulations, including SOLAS.

For further modernisation, MSC 99 also adopted a statement of recognition for services provided by the Inmarsat Fleet Safety to GMDSS, initially in the coverage area under the Inmarsat-4 satellite, which is the Middle East and Asia.

MSC also instructed the next Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue sub-committee (scheduled for February 2019) to evaluate China’s BeiDou navigation satellite system as a future GMDSS provider. These monumental changes should provide a stage for regulation change covering emergency and safety communications in the longer term.


Communications networks deliver more IoT technology to owners

Shipping companies are increasingly required to adopt more intelligent machine-to-machine communications and data transmission connectivity to deliver information faster and more accurately. This internet of things (IoT) technology is intende to enable better decision making, performance-based operations and condition-based monitoring and maintenance.

A forecast publsished in 2018 showed shipping companies anticipate spending US$2.5M each, on average, implementing IoT technology, connecting onboard systems to shore for data analytics to reduce fuel consumption, improve regulation compliance and navigational safety.

IoT connectivity can be delivered through satellite communications, such as Inmarsat’s Fleet Xpress, Iridium’s upcoming Certus service and Ku-band VSAT solutions.

Also in 2018, KNL Networks reinvented the ship radio service to introduce an alternative approach to transferring data from vessels to shore. The company is creating a mesh network using shortwave radio on vessels to communicate IoT data to shore. It is a network of multiple base stations and terminals on ships to provide a dedicated and secure backbone for IoT solutions.


New antennas and terminals revealed

To service maritime digitalisation, IoT and smart shipping, several new satellite communications services, antennas and terminals have been introduced in 2018.

Cobham Satcom and Thales introduced terminals for Iridium Certus, designed to work with the Iridium Next US$3Bn constellation of satellites for L-band communications and vessel tracking. Thales also incorporated its Certus terminal into the Vesselink service.

The antenna weighs 3.4 kg and has three dedicated voice over IP channels, bandwidth of 700 kbps up and 352 kbps down for data and location tracking. Cobham received certification and shipped its first Sailor 4300 terminal series in August.

Cobham also introduced a high-powered version of its Sailor 100 GX antenna in September to enable more data to be transmitted over Inmarsat’s Ka-band services to maritime users. This antenna’s reflector is 1 m in diameter and is stabilised on three axes.

KNS unveiled its Z8 MK3 Allinone as an integrated and portable VSAT for maritime applications. This includes a Ku-band antenna, modem and control unit within the radome. This contrasts with conventional VSAT, which has a fixed antenna on deck and the other components in a below-deck rack.

In November 2018, KVH Industries revealed its new TracPhone VSAT antenna that connects to its high-throughput satellite network. TracPhone V3-HTS is a 37 cm diameter antenna designed to deliver bandwidth of 5 Mbps download and 2 Mbps upload to vessels over satellites with spot beams of high intensity of Ku-band.


These 2018 developments confirm that satellite communications, vessel hardware and robust software will remain the mainstay of maritime digitalisation for the long term. But there are, and will be, alternative networks to consider for maritime IoT and new services will be coming in the future.

These will enable shipowners and shipmanagers to adopt maritime digitalisation to remain competitive, operationally efficient and regulatory compliant – to even go beyond compliance – and to be ready for challenges in the next decade.

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