Shipping organisations should be able to gather the data they need for operational optimisation regardless of its source says Nicolas Furgé, Marlink
Decarbonisation and Digitalisation: the shipping industry’s twin challenges have a symbiotic relationship. While it is true that new fuels will be required to achieve the reductions necessary to meet the IMO’s carbon emission targets, increased fleet efficiency is a vital component of the journey to net zero.
The challenge for seafarers and ship operators alike is that shipping has traditionally preferred opacity to transparency; inefficiency sometimes pays better than proven performance. Digitalisation removes these barriers, if not at one stroke then piece by piece and permanently.
From a market dominated by secrecy and scant information, we are moving to one where platforms track and map ships and cargoes via AIS and vessels are managed from fleet operations centres benchmarking and predicting performance.
To improve performance, increase efficiency and therefore lower emissions, shipping companies need not just the basics of course, speed and fuel consumption but a raft of data on the performance of ship systems, from planned and predictive maintenance, weather, tides and currents, to commercial performance against charterparty, with departure and arrival optimised for maximum earning and minimal off-hire.
If not for regulatory reasons, vessel operators may still find themselves under pressure to improve their operational profile from other sources. This may be from ship finance banks which are in the process of measuring the carbon intensity of their portfolios or it may be from their own customers. A number of major charterers have already declared their ‘zero carbon’ intentions, either though slow steaming or the adoption of new fuels, a change that reflects societal pressure too, especially where the company needs to demonstrate improvement to its customers.
Regardless of the hype around a rush to appear ‘green’ – we can be sure that Environmental Sustainability and Governance (ESG) criteria will play an increasing role in future decisions of buyers and bankers alike.
But not all shipping companies are created equal; not all have the systems available to gather, process and analyse the data they need and present it in a way that is actionable. For many years some owners have complained that they have too much data on certain subjects and too little on others. We understand too that in strong markets vessels are assets that can change hands quickly so a simple means to create a blueprint for data collection and standardise its deployment is vital.
The problem is that as the value of data has grown, so its creators have started to recognise a business opportunity that erects another barrier to transparency. Ownership of data, the ability to access it and the right to use it are key issues to resolve before a truly digital operation can be created. A number of platforms are available that enable them to leverage performance and efficiency data and to plug in other performance monitoring and analysis tools.
If the result is lower fuel consumption and a reduction in carbon emissions then the result is positive. Too often though, owners won’t see the whole picture, or have access to the data they need because the manufacturer or platform provider holds ownership. This is true too for the communications and distribution of vessel data; in some cases, the gate is truly open, in others, owners needing to analyse vessel performance instead find themselves in a walled garden.
Marlink believes that digitalisation is too important a subject to be put at risk by constraining access to data that can improve the environmental performance of the world’s fleet. It also believes that collecting, aggregating and analysing vessel performance data is a function that should be open and available to ship operators regardless of their size.
To deliver real benefits, collection of performance data must be an open process with secure access to all the available information that enables masters and crew, managers and charterers to make the right decisions.
Naturally that requires communications built to established industry standards, with direct interoperability between all the key components. Much more importantly, it requires the ability to gather data from any source on ship, from any component, on deck or below, at any desired frequency and to make that available to the operator regardless of manufacturer or data type.
As a provider of a hybrid network, Marlink will always be agnostic about the communications channels our customers prefer; we are used to making the pieces fit together, regardless of frequency band, constellation, hardware or software required. We believe operators should be able to make the same choice about the data on their ships. Data is a commodity, one whose value will only increase in future, but one we think should be free to its owners to gather and use as they like.
Our BridgeLink system is designed with this in mind; data from any ship system of any OEM over any connectivity link can be collected and presented in a dashboard that makes it easy to understand fleet performance.
With environmental compliance beginning to operate on a ‘regulatory and voluntary’ basis, operators will need to be able to display credible data that demonstrates safe and efficient operations for their charterers – just like other voluntary but industry standard systems like TMSA. A missing piece will make the whole picture inaccurate. It does the cause of digitalisation and the pursuit of efficiency little service if shipowners are unable to make better decisions for themselves.