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Smart Shipping and the Human Factor
Frank J. Coles
As we discuss the advent of smart shipping, we seem to concentrate on the technologies and possibilities for our operations. There is one key factor that is crucial for all this to occur: connectivity. I also want to examine the human factor in smart shipping in light of connectivity and operations.

When considering connectivity, it is hard to see a fundamental technological improvement. Price will be the area of improvement. Increased competition and increased capacity has made for fast, cheap, high-quality connectivity. With Inmarsat getting into the VSAT market and the large FSS operators determined to break into maritime, prices are under pressure. Also, the large distributors such as Marlink and Speedcast are determined to present a diverse choice of providers for the user. This will lead to more choice and more competition.

The recent Euroconsult report on HTS capacity forecasts three times more capacity by 2020, when there is going to be 3,000 Gbps available, up from less than 700 Gbps today. Demand is not set to grow to more than 1,000 Gbps. Shipowners will get to enjoy this situation.

Let’s contrast this to other sectors, though. Currently, shipping owners and crew pay significantly more than their counterparts in aviation. For example, a customer on an Emirates flight is paying $2 per 1 GB. This is pay as you go based on actual usage. Yet maritime users are paying anywhere from five to 40 times more, provided they commit to paying $1,500 to $3,200 per month, assuming an average of 40 GB per month. With more satellites to come, additional capacity and a clear opportunity for price reductions for maritime, smart shipping and owners are going to benefit.

With increased connectivity, the risk of cybersecurity breaches is rising. The human operator represents the largest threat. By nature, humans are gullible and vulnerable to risk; we can be lazy or tired, and that’s when mistakes happen. For instance, someone could put a compromised thumb drive into a USB port, thus threatening a whole ship.

AIS also plays a role in cybersecurity, or, as I think of it, “Attack, Infiltrate and Spoof.” Our industry has seemed to have a complete blind spot to AIS. It is easy to hack; open to spoofing, hijacking and service disruption. There is a plethora of services being offered on the back of AIS data, and while this seems great, the inherent cyber weakness provides the potential for large economic and environmental damage to arise. It is quite possible to move a ship, hide a ship, add buoys or objects and create false tracks of ships.

Let’s consider ECDIS. The architecture of a connected ECDIS requires a VPN, two firewalls and user authentications to ensure the security of the ECDIS and the multifunctional displays on the bridge. The cybersecurity is well-established, controlled through regulation, compliance and strict certification by the IMO and IEC.

The connectivity of the smart ship is not subject to this type of industry compliance and control. There is no standard for the teleport, the satellite, the antenna and the communications rack on board. There are international maritime standards for GMDSS and AIS, but for the smart shipping connection, nothing exists. This means the cybersecurity risk is left to each satellite operator, service provider and hardware provider. If we are to have an accepted level of cybersecurity for the connected, smart ship, even a remotely operated ship, this will have to change.

Remote, unmanned and smart ships will require the fidelity of connection, the robustness of positional data and equipment compliant to IMO/IEC standards yet to be put in place. We are not there yet; not even close. There are no regulatory standards for VSAT services, FBB, FX or Iridium equipment, teleports or associated hubs and routers.

And now to the human factor. The human on board is loaded with more and more regulations, administrative tasks and technology, with little clarity on how this is all supposed to help the human operate with the technology.

Smart shipping needs to remove the drudgery from the bridge and engine room, pass this to the shore and allow the human on board to focus on the key critical issues. This means training must be enhanced and focused.

Otherwise, when an incident occurs, the human will not be able to react appropriately. We want the human to be trained to act in the right manner instead of being a technology game watcher, which results in boredom, mistakes and environmental and other incidents.

Improved connectivity will allow for better off-duty conditions for the crew on a ship, but some worry that this supposed improvement in human welfare might actually mean the crew will get less sleep and rest. They think the crew will simply watch movies and play on the Web all the time.

What will happen depends on how you handle the crew: When you treat people like children, they will act like children. When you set boundaries for adults, they should act accordingly.

In summary, better, faster, cheaper communications are available. Aviation has it, so shipping needs to demand it. But first, we must understand how to use it properly. We must also address cybersecurity needs at a regulatory and industry-wide level. Without these considerations, we have simply moved the problem from price to security.

An attitude change is necessary; a new mind-set and approach to modern transportation. It requires an understanding of technology’s benefits and of the interaction between man and machine.



Frank J. Coles is the CEO of Transas and a member of the board of directors. His primary goal at Transas is to create an ecosystem of harmonized integrated solutions in safety, navigation, training and ship operation to enhance ship and shore integration. This article is based on a speech at the recent UAE Maritime Leaders Seminar.


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