How Inmarsat is working to improve safety at sea

The sea can be a dangerous place without proper precautions. Ensuring the safety of a vessel is an essential part of navigation, regardless of the sector of the maritime industry in which an operator works.

However, it is difficult to gauge how safe the industry is. A lack of industry standard metrics means there is little evidence to benchmark operator performance, resulting in a lack of visibility on the subject outside of internal tracking metrics.

To address this issue, mobile satellite communications provider Inmarsat analyzed calls to the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), the global automated emergency signal communication system for ships, between 2019 and 2021. His findings were published in The future of maritime security report in June.

We don’t really have any real security metrics,” says Peter Broadhurst, senior vice president at Inmarsat. “There’s no place to go for safety stats, and without those metrics no one can know if it’s getting better. I think everyone would agree that security is both important and difficult to maintain, so what Inmarsat is trying to do with this report is provide some transparency on what’s going on and hopefully , to increase the level of safety for the sailor.

Despite an overall increase in distress calls in the shipping industry, the report found that passenger transport was one of the safest sectors, with just 13 calls during the period studied. Although the reduction in operations caused by the pandemic likely played a role in the drop in numbers, operators have also placed particular emphasis on addressing security issues, says Broadhurst.

“It’s fair to say that safety performance varies across the shipping industry, but in the passenger segment, safety is a key concern, which operators do an excellent job of addressing,” says- he. “Given that for the passenger sector you are discussing the protection of people rather than cargo, and the associated reputational damage that would come from harm to a passenger, safety is very, very important. However, there are still points for improvement that could be made. »

Among the areas highlighted by Broadhurst is training crews to deal with incidents and encouraging them to report any issues that may arise. He suggests that a reluctance to admit that an incident has taken place can prevent the industry from improving its overall safety performance.

“Shipping has been around for thousands of years, so I don’t think there’s anything that should come as a surprise,” he says. “There are processes to deal with every situation, but I’m not sure enough is being done to ensure these are implemented. There is a reluctance to report incidents or seek external assistance. Ship crews and operators should not be punished for reporting it, as we need them to be able to report issues in an open environment for industry to learn from and move on .

Broadhurst also suggests that ship operators should work together more closely to improve safety by setting industry-wide standards.

“Many ship operators have their own internal methods for tracking safety, and insurers have data on all accidents that occur on a ship,” he explains. “But we need to have a benchmark if we want to make sure the industry improves, because there are sectors right now that are less safety-focused than others. This is the end goal of this report, and we welcome constructive feedback on what needs to be included in it to support the industry. We can all learn lessons to improve safety levels to where they need to be. »

Inmarsat is making its own contribution to safety in the industry with the development of a new solution, Fleet Safety. The data service, which has been approved by the International Maritime Organization, supports GMDSS compliance for voice and data distress, as well as emergency and safety communications. By combining a maritime safety terminal with the existing services provided by its FleetBroadband or Fleet One solutions, Fleet Safety offers a more complete range of safety functions.

“With the Fleet Safety service, we built a system that meets regulations and then added additional functionality,” says Broadhurst. “First, we asked the search and rescue community what they wanted, and they stressed the need for good communication. We therefore created a server solution that allows us to connect the emergency coordination centers to each other. For example, if an incident occurs on a ship, the ship can choose which rescue coordination center to send distress to, which will then call a nearby ship to assist.

Fleet Safety also provides real-time maritime safety information broadcasts, which can be downloaded even after the broadcast time and when the marine safety terminal has been turned off; for example, in drydock or in ports where reception is compromised.

“We’ve built a platform for marine safety providers to send proactive messages, warning of weather conditions, a non-functioning navigation light or even a tsunami,” says Broadhurst. “The new platform means these providers can be confident that the message they send is delivered. We have also created an application programming interface so that they can create messages themselves and then send them to Inmarsat, which we then send to our existing service and our new service, which simplifies the process.

Inmarsat will also offer operators the opportunity to train their crew in the use of the new system to ensure they can adapt quickly.

“It’s not just about creating a new product, throwing it over the fence and saying ‘here it is,’ says Broadhurst. “Everyone who is going to use the system must do so without fear and with full knowledge of what it is supposed to do. We have therefore created a module which will train seafarers in their general operator certificate as well as in the new safety services.

Broadhurst highlights the service’s ability to condense information in a way that ensures it can be processed effectively by the crew in their efforts to maintain safety.

“There’s so much information these days for the watch officer or navigator to take in,” says Broadhurst. “Fleet Safety puts control of information back in the hands of seafarers. We have been very selective in ensuring that only relevant messages are urgently displayed to the crew, while other information is available if necessary. This was not available with the old system and will increase the level of security. It is a system that is built for the future.

This article first appeared in the Fall/Winter 2022 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Review FREE here to get the next issue delivered straight to your inbox or door.

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