How Inmarsat is working to improve safety at sea

Peter Broadhurst talks with Alex Smith about safety in the shipping industry and how Inmarsat’s new Fleet Safety solution can help improve crews’ ability to address incidents

How Inmarsat is working to improve safety at sea
The Future of Maritime Safety report examined distress calls across the shipping industry between 2019 and 2021

The sea can be a dangerous place without proper precautions. Ensuring the safety of a ship is an essential part of sailing, no matter what sector of the shipping industry an operator is working in.

However, it’s difficult to assess just how safe the industry is. A lack of standard industry measures means that there is little evidence to compare operator’s performance against, leading to a lack of visibility around the topic outside of internal tracking measures.

To address this issue, mobile satellite communications provider Inmarsat has analysed calls to the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), the worldwide system for automated emergency signal communication for ships, between 2019 and 2021. Its findings were published in The Future of Maritime Safety report in June.

We don’t really have any true indicators around safety,” says Peter Broadhurst, senior vice president at Inmarsat. “There’s no one place to go for statistics concerning safety, and without those measurements nobody can know if it’s being improved. I think everyone would recognise safety as being both important and hard to maintain, so what Inmarsat is trying to do with this report is provide some transparency around what’s happening and hopefully drive up the level of safety for the seafarer.”

Despite finding an overall increase in distress calls across the shipping industry, the report found that passenger shipping was among the safest sectors, with only 13 calls over the researched period. Though the reduction in operations caused by the pandemic is likely to have played a part in lowering numbers, operators have also placed a particular focus in addressing safety concerns, says Broadhurst.

“It’s fair to say that safety record vary across the shipping industry, but in the passenger segment safety is a core concern, which operators do an extremely good job in addressing,” he says. “Given that for the passenger sector you’re 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 areas of improvement that could be made.”

Among the areas that Broadhurst highlights is crew training for dealing with incidents and encouraging them to report any problems that may arise. He suggests that a reluctance to admit that an incident has taken place may be impeding the industry in improving its overall safety records.

“Shipping has been around for thousands of years, so I don’t think that there’s anything that should come as a surprise,” he says. “There are processes to deal with every situation, but I’m not convinced that enough is done to make sure that these are carried out. There’s a reluctance to report incidents or reach out for external support. Crew and ship operators shouldn’t be punished if they report it, because we need them to be able to report problems in an open environment for the industry to learn from it and move on.”

Broadhurst also suggests that ship operators should collaborate more closely to improve safety by establishing industry-wide standards.

“Many ship operators have their own, internal, methods of tracking safety, and insurance providers have data on all the accidents that take place on a ship,” he explains. “But we need to have a benchmark if we are to ensure the industry is improving, because there’s currently some sectors that are less focused on safety than others. That’s the eventual aim of this report, and we’re happy to have constructive feedback about what needs to be included within it to support the industry. Lessons can be learned by all of us 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, along with urgency and safety communications. Combining a Maritime Safety Terminal with existing services provided by its FleetBroadband or Fleet One solutions, Fleet Safety provides a more comprehensive range of safety features.

“With the Fleet Safety service, we’ve built a system that meets the regulations and then added extra features on top,” says Broadhurst. “Firstly, we asked the search and rescue community what they wanted, and they highlighted the need for good communication. So we created a server solution that allows us to connect rescue coordination centres together. For example, if an incident occurs on a vessel, the ship can choose which rescue coordination centre it sends the distress to, which would then call in a ship that’s close by to assist.”

Fleet Safety also provides real-time Maritime Safety Information broadcasts, which can be downloaded even after the broadcast time and when the Maritime Safety Terminal has been turned off; for example, when in dry dock or ports where reception is compromised.

“We built a platform for the maritime safety providers who send out proactive messages, warning of weather conditions, a navigation light not working or even a tsunami” says Broadhurst. “The new platform means those providers can have confidence that the message they’re sending out is being delivered. We’ve also created an application programming interface so that they can create messages themselves and then just fire them off to Inmarsat, which we then send over to our existing service and our new service, taking the hassle out of the process.”

Inmarsat will also provide operators with the capability 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 and throwing it over the fence and saying, “there you go”,” says Broadhurst. “Everybody who is going to use the system should do so without fear and in full knowledge of what it’s supposed to do. So we created a module that will train seafarers in their general operators certificate as well as the new safety services.”

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

“There’s so much information these days for the Officer of the Watch or the Navigator to take in,” says Broadhurst. “Fleet Safety puts the control of information back in the hands of seafarers. We’ve been very selective in making sure that only relevant messages are shown urgently to crew, while other information is available if needed. This wasn’t available with the old system, and will raise the level of safety. It’s a system that’s built for the future.”

This article was first published in the Autumn/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 for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox or your door.


Share this story

Alex Smith
By Alex Smith
11 November 2022

Theme picker