Government comms
Issue 6 | July 2014
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steering the next wave of connected vehicles
The Maritime Labour Convention 2006 puts added demands on maritime operators to enhance crew welfare, as well as pushes crew communications to the top of the agenda for maritime businesses.

By Rashid Baba
Director of Products at Thuraya
Less than a year after its entry into force, the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC 2006) has already had an impact on ship-to-shore communications. Sometimes known as the “Seafarers’ Bill of Rights”, the MLC 2006 includes some non-mandatory guidelines covering day-to-day and emergency access to communications by ship’s crew.

But ship owners taking part in a maritime panel at this year’s Thuraya Partner Conference in Dubai reported that the MLC 2006 has quickly become a significant driver to providing crew communications.

Head of IT and Communications for Emarat Maritime, Baskar Shanmuganantham, told the conference the MLC 2006’s entry into force had coincided with an increased demand for crew voice and data services.

“Although the Convention does not directly obligate owners to provide crew solutions, technology is now, more than ever, a critical component to retain crew, as well as to stay ahead of the competition,” he said. “We absolutely cannot stand to lose our trained and experienced crew because of non-availability of crew communications.”

Shanmuganantham added that since his company had broadened Internet access across its fleet, there was an increased need to ensure that officers and crew alike got the hours of rest mandated by the STCW Convention. “The critical issue when implementing a crew solution is to ensure all mariners also get the right rest hours and are not spending too much time online,” he said.

Leslie Suntay of crewing agency Philippine Transmarine Carriers agreed that the MLC 2006 had been “a strong selling point whenever we pitch to principals and even to ship masters. They understand the implication that they must care for their crew.”

With the Philippines still providing the majority of the world’s seafaring resources, connecting crew has become critical as a means of retention and welfare provision. Suntay told the panel that for many, connectivity was still limited to use of the ship’s business equipment, which the master might let them use when not required for operational purposes.

“The major shift in the past decade is that the crew felt that they can ask for more connectivity with a strong signal and better voice quality,” he added. “Part of the reason we offer Marino PhonePal (using Thuraya SF2500 terminal via Thuraya’s Service Partner SMART Communications) is to provide that access specifically for the crew. There will still be defined periods of time when they can and can’t use the system for personal calls but the access is becoming much better.”

The next wave is for connections that will enable more Filipinos to access social media tools and other data services. Suntay said surveys of crew demand consistently put the desire for a better Internet connection at the top of the list and for good reason. “The Philippines is the capital of Facebook, so that is one big driver. The other is that culturally, there are very strong family connections in the Philippines. Being in touch online is crucial. The demand for voice won’t go away but data is still the next big thing,” he said.

From the perspective of a tanker and bulk carrier operator, Shanmuganantham observed that “the volume of digital communications is increasing day by day, so it’s necessary for us to a have robust communications system that can handle operational, safety and infotainment traffic.”

Legacy systems can be unpredictable to use and have high operational costs, which are not feasible for today’s changing operational requirements. In its tanker business in particular, the company cannot risk having the ship out of touch.

His team’s objective is to identify and implement cost-effective solutions with sufficient ease of use for ship staff, so as to make communications as practical as possible. Communications must support the master and his crew, saving time and paperwork, thus reducing the administrative burden.

So how do providers capture the opportunity that crew calling presents and the way MLC 2006 has pushed up the agenda? President of TMF Associates, Tim Farrar, told the panel the changes over the last few years had seen a broad shift but have also created new niches.

“If we go back two or three years, there was a fast rate of transition to maritime broadband services and the question was how operators could capture the potential upgraders. That transition has happened now and the debate has shifted to how providers can offer new solutions to users wanting better value,” he said.

Thuraya’s maritime market positioning, offering a highly capable network, more reliable hardware than some of its competitors and better value than some bigger players creates the potential to open up opportunities in new and existing segments, he suggested.

“Smaller vessels, in particular, that want some satellite capability but were previously unserved are one group. The other group is those who might be coming to the end of a competitor contract and want to consider their options,” he said.

For that first group, moving up in terms of spend is a question of being able to justify the upgrade. For the second, the fact that some competitors have consistently raised prices means that users for whom cost is an issue are prepared to seriously consider alternatives.

For end users, that cost is still critical despite a slowly improving market. But for owners looking for more value from their investment in satellite communications, crew is still the priority. The result is that owners realize they need to spend money to save money.

From talking with owners and managers, we consistently find that they want to retain their crew and comply with the spirit of the MLC 2006. Very often the budget for crew services is available and some of the cost can also be shifted back to crew so that the owner doesn’t have to meet the ongoing cost.

What MLC 2006 asks of satellite operators and our service partners is to step into the ship owner’s mind and help him meet his goals. When that goal is better crew calling, the strategy is straightforward: deliver high quality, creative solutions that manage cost and the result is a benefit that owner and crew can share.
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