Tanker and gas carrier owners and managers are upgrading their satellite communications with VSAT to improve connectivity for their fleet operations and enhance welfare services for their crews. The sector is ahead of others in shipping in deploying the latest VSAT technology and services because of the need to retain the best-trained and most competent seafarers, while adopting electronic reporting, higher levels of monitoring and online applications.
By deploying VSAT services on their fleets, tanker operators can embrace digital technologies, regardless of whether the vessels are shipping crude, oil products or chemicals. Likewise, gas carrier owners can ensure their fleets of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) ships have the highest connectivity on board.
The choices that tanker operators are making are whether to upgrade onboard satellite communications to Ku-band VSAT services or deploy Ka-band solutions, such as Inmarsat’s Fleet Xpress or Telenor Satellite’s regional Thor 7 service. One of the world’s largest independent tanker shipmanagers, Fleet Management Limited, chose in March this year to deploy Fleet Xpress across its fleet.
The Hong Kong-based company manages a large fleet of more than 100 vessels consisting of oil tankers, gas carriers, and chemical tankers, plus an even larger fleet of bulk carriers, container vessels and general cargo ships. Fleet Management manages around 50 chemical tankers of between 6,700 dwt and 45,000 dwt and 40 tankers. These include very large crude carriers, Aframax oil tankers and medium-range product tankers. It also manages 12 gas carriers that range from 8,000m3 capacity to 80,000m3 and are either semi-refrigerated or fully-refrigerated tankers
Fleet Management also manages around 14,000 crew across its whole fleet, so it rates seafarer retention as a top priority. According to general manager Mayank Mishra, higher bandwidth services were required on the ships to deliver the online connectivity that the seafarers were asking for. There was a growing need for broadband communications on these ships to enable crew to access online applications, such as social media and other content.
“We expect to implement internet connectivity across the majority of our fleet as quickly as possible,” said Capt Mishra. “We are committed to delivering the best possible onboard user experience and look forward to bringing a new level of high speed connectivity to our vessels,” he explained.
Fleet Management expects to have rolled out Fleet Xpress to the majority of its fleet globally by 2018. The service will use Inmarsat’s Global Xpress (GX) constellation of satellites and network of ground stations and Cobham Satcom 1m GX antennas for Ka-band connectivity. This will be combined with a FleetBroadband terminal on each ship for L-band back-up.
Some of the services that Fleet Xpress should deliver include:
- improvements in vessel efficiency
- enhanced crew welfare
- better safety services
- greater connectivity between ship systems and shore
- real-time data transmissions
- redundancy in broadband communications
- high quality voice and video calls
- live security camera feeds.
Inmarsat maritime chief sales officer Gerbrand Schalkwijk explained the benefits for fleet managers: “Shipmanagers are ideally placed to exploit high speed, reliable connectivity that puts big data at the heart of operating decisions and cost-controlled connectivity in the hands of seafarers.” He added: “They also get new hands-on management capabilities via high quality voice and video calls, while security camera video on board is also live. Fleet Xpress even enables real-time status checking via an app on superintendents' smartphones.”
Fleet Management has been using Inmarsat satellite communications for 20 years on its ships, including FleetBroadband. It previously decided to deploy the XpressLink Ku-band service on the ships it manages with the expectation of upgrading to Fleet Xpress when this is available. This is what it will do over the next two years.
Another tanker operator, HyprocShipping Co, has decided to deploy Fleet Xpress to improve crew welfare services and improve vessel efficiencies. Inmarsat partner Singtel is installing Fleet Xpress hardware on Hyproc ships during this year to increase broadband communications for the crew.
Tessala was the first gas carrier of the Hyproc fleet to be connected to Inmarsat’s Ka-band satellite communications. The ship also has unlimited L-band services, using FleetBroadband, as a back-up to the Ka-band network. Hyproc will also be using Singtel’s managed ICT services to monitor and control the connectivity, crew broadband use and ship networks. Singtel said that Fleet Xpress should ensure there is an always-on service for vessel operations, without the shipowner worrying about connectivity. This means if the Ka-band network fails, voice and data communications is automatically rerouted through the L-band terminal.
Hyproc is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Algerian energy group Sonatrach. Its ships export liquid petroleum gas and liquefied natural gas from Sonatrach’s production centres to global markets. Singtel said Hyproc was embracing new technologies and information and communications technology (ICT) applications to improve operational efficiencies and cost savings.
Teekay has upgraded satellite communications across its shuttle tanker fleet through a contract extension with Marlink. VSAT solutions are being updated and bandwidth is being increased on Teekay’s tankers that operate in the North Sea and off Brazil. Marlink’s Sealink VSAT hardware, including antennas, modems and routers, is already on the existing ships and will be installed on three new shuttle tankers that Teekay has on order.
These Suezmax, dynamically positioned shuttle tankers are being built in a South Korean shipyard for delivery from the fourth quarter of 2017 to the middle of 2018. They will operate on the east coast of Canada servicing oil fields on the Grand Banks.
The higher bandwidth provided through Sealink VSAT will enable Teekay to benefit from remote operations, enhanced crew welfare and more connectivity applications on board its tankers.
Teekay contracts specialist Deborah Sloan said Sealink VSAT has become an integral part of Teekay’s ability to provide efficient vessel operations. She added: “Sealink enables our ships to leverage connected applications that improve our operational capabilities. Marlink’s network has proved itself to be both reliable and versatile, competitively meeting the high-end needs of our technology focus on board.”
SCF develops remote monitoring for Polar fleet
Russian tanker operator Sovcomflot (SCF) has developed a remote monitoring system to improve its control over the quality and safety of navigation in its fleet. The operator’s executive vice president and technical director, Igor Tonkovidov, said connectivity with its tankers operating in the Arctic enables remote diagnostics and condition-based maintenance. Around a third of SCF’s vessels have high Ice class certification and service three Arctic oil and gas projects: the Prirazlomnoye, Varandey and Novy Port fields. It is therefore vital that they are kept in prime condition.
“The implementation of the remote preventative diagnostics system enables us to receive all the necessary information about the condition of key machinery on an ongoing basis,” Mr Tonkovidov explained. “This is particularly important for ensuring a continuous fleet operation cycle in the remote areas of the Arctic, where the vessels are hard to access by service engineers and other skilled staff.”
He spoke about the unique experience that SCF has accumulated over the last decade of operating in the Arctic and sub-Arctic seas. He said that this, together with qualified shipboard personnel and a system of special training for crews to work in the difficult conditions of the northern seas, formed “the cornerstone of a reliable transport component of oil and gas projects in the Arctic region.” Arctic shipping operations are “a key element” in the large-scale industrial projects in the region, he added.