COMMENT: Wave of digitisation heading for Dubai shipping

Luc Serviant, vice president, Middle East & Africa, Orange Business Services on how the UAE maritime industry is sailing into digital transformation as ships are no longer isolated islands on the ocean.
Luc Serviant, vice president, Middle East & Africa, Orange Business Services.
Luc Serviant, vice president, Middle East & Africa, Orange Business Services.


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As a nation with a strong seafaring heritage and global shipping reputation, the UAE is naturally focusing on the maritime sector. It is one of the six priority sectors within the Dubai Industrial Strategy 2030, based on its importance, future growth prospects, export potential and mid to long-term economic impact.

As the maritime industry sails into a digitalized world, the challenge is finding the right long-term technologies to efficiently link terrestrial locations with vessels at sea so business applications and crew traffic can run seamlessly across the entire network, while also ensuring security. Working ships are also mobile floating workplaces – like their onshore colleagues, onboard crew members are now taking an average of three personal devices on board their vessels.

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A revolution in maritime communications.

The maritime industry has been relatively slow to adapt to the world of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) but this is changing as shipping embraces a smart and connected future.

In fact, some commentators believe that IIoT will be the second maritime communications revolution after the success of VSAT broadband satellite services. Among other benefits, IIoT can dramatically improve transport and logistics, advance safety and reduce the administrative costs of regulatory compliance.

As satellite connectivity and transfer improves still further, faster and more robust connections will be available from the ship to the shore, allowing for an ever-increasing amount of data to be used in operational and diagnostic decision-making.

Shipping owners and operators have already recognized the potential of IIoT, thanks to improved satellite coverage, prevalent sensor technology and the power of cloud computing, collecting data including voyage, weather, maintenance, machinery and state of cargo.

We are already seeing connected devices and sensors starting to be used in innovative ways.  For example, Dubai-based Topaz Energy & Marine seamlessly integrates its ships and onshore operations with a Maritime Connect solution that connects its fleet at sea and supports the corporate network, increasing the efficiency of the fleet, lowering cost and improving the onboard experience for crew. By the end of 2018, Topaz will roll out the solution across the entire fleet of more than 110 vessels, routing traffic depending the availability of the link and with the appropriate quality of service.

The company will integrate its fleet into the corporate network as ‘offices at sea’ and rollout business-critical applications. Fleet management manages ships at sea and provides invaluable business intelligence. This includes dashboards that can detect vessels deviating from the average standard in terms of fuel consumption, speed or maintenance issues. The maritime connect solution also manages voice, video and data in limited bandwidth and challenging weather conditions and prevents cyberattacks with an integrated suite of security features.

Similarly, Turkey’s leading shipping and container company, Arkas Line (part of Arkas Holding), is enhancing communications across its fleet and international offices with a hybrid network, Maritime Connect and security services from Orange Business Services. The solution helps Arkas expand its business with a single source provider for reliable and secure global networks, covered by SLAs and with global helpdesk support. Arkas to access critical applications for the operation of its vessels at sea, such as maintenance software, real-time reports, database access, e-mail, Internet and VoIP. Connecting the fleet also improves data flow between the fleet and terrestrial sites, and allows Arkas to deploy new real-time services. These include geolocation for its vessels, transmission of electronic data on the status of the fleet and monitoring consumables on each vessel.

More efficient ships

Supporting maritime digital transformation means combining many different technologies and networks – both onshore and offshore – with end-to-end integration and in-house satellite connectivity.  Shipping companies, IT managers, captains and the crew can control access to data and voice services on board vessels or remotely from the shore. 

IIoT will help the shipping industry become more competitive. Saving fuel will be one of the first big applications, as approximately two-thirds of a ship’s operating cost is its fuel. An active system on board a vessel coupled with a fuel optimization application can collect data and send it to the shore to plot the most energy efficient route, for example.

Future fleets will have more system automation through a mesh of smart sensors and global networks for data transfer between vessels and the shore to provide full or semi-autonomous operation. Every shipping company will have its own specific requirements, depending on the data required to be brought ashore and the physical challenges.

Big improvements promised

IIoT has the potential to make enormous operational improvements in the shipping industry, from fuel consumption to carbon footprint and cargo handling, from pre-emptive maintenance and remote technical diagnostics to improving safety for crew and passengers.

Ships by their very nature generate data and by connecting this via IIoT to the fleet, the shore and the cloud, vessels will no longer be islands in the ocean.

By the end of this decade we expect the industry to become more connected and truly digitally transformed.

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