Technology and crew welfare

11 August 2020

Clara Wahnich, Digital Innovation Partnerships Lead, Inmarsat Maritime

  • maritime

  • global-xpress
  • broadband

Last year when we began planning our Welfare 2.0 report on how the next generation of technology can enable better crew safety, health and wellbeing at sea we could not have foreseen a global pandemic in 2020 and the impact it would have on seafarers.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation estimates that 600,000 seafarers have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis – half of those stranded on ships due to travel restrictions and an equal number left unemployed on shore. It has been described as a humanitarian crisis.

In addition, governments from around the world who attended the virtual International Maritime Summit on Crew Changes in July acknowledged that “…the health and wellbeing of seafarers is paramount and is inextricably linked to the continuing safety and efficiency of ship operations”. They pledged to urgently resolve issues that have arisen due to the pandemic.

COVID-19 has shone a light on the vital role connectivity plays in crew welfare. A large percentage of bandwidth on VSAT vessels is used by the crew – to browse the web, use social media and make voice and video calls home over the internet. Reliable connectivity, innovative technology and robust data are critical tools for sustaining good crew welfare.

Throughout the pandemic, we have been working with the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) and other maritime charities to ensure that seafarers could stay connected without the burden of additional financial anxiety. We have provided our maritime customers with discounts on voice services and free access to ISWAN’s SeafarerHelp portal and live chat function and we continue to provide satellite phones to chaplains in ports where seafarers were stranded without internet access.

In addition, we partnered with crew healthcare specialist VIKAND and AI start-up FrontM to launch a COVID-19 telemedicine service. The service has already gone live on 120+ vessels, with many more in the pipeline.

But it is clear that in the light of the coronavirus pandemic it’s even more crucial that we find new ways to support seafarers.

Search for technology solutions

Alongside the findings of our Welfare 2.0 report, we are using our recently-launched Open Innovation Challenge to discover novel technology solutions that have the potential to improve life onboard.

In partnership with Shell Shipping and Maritime and maritime digital consultancy Thetius, we are looking for solutions from start-ups and SMEs that could use our mobile satellite connectivity to elevate their impact and benefits. Specifically, these should span deck safety, minimising fatigue on board, reducing administration and overall wellbeing.

Successful applicants will be invited to pitch their idea to a jury made up of serving seafarers and representatives from Inmarsat, Shell Shipping and Maritime and the welfare sector. The winning team will be awarded a £10,000 cash grant to test their idea by implementing a proof of concept onboard a Shell vessel, with full support from the challenge partner organisations.

We have also joined the Young Professionals in Shipping Network’s Captain’s Table 2020, an independent pitch competition focused on identifying strategic innovations to real problems in the maritime and logistics industries. Crew safety and wellbeing is one of the competition’s categories, alongside decarbonisation, port optimisation and cyber risk.

Five start-ups will be selected to take part in a curated bootcamp before making their pitch, with the overall winner receiving a cash prize of US$20,000 as well as support from Inmarsat and the competition’s other maritime corporate supporters.

One of the main barriers to the digitalisation of the maritime industry has always been that many shipping companies still need to be convinced of the value of technology. Through initiatives like the Open Innovation Challenge and Captain’s Table, we aim to demonstrate how just how positive the impact of digital solutions on crew welfare can be.