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The Future of Ship Management


Disruption and innovation are probably the most used words by industry gurus specially in the field of technology. We hear about something new every day and probably are in awe of the brilliance of the people behind the idea or product.

Shipping industry, however, has not quite caught up with technology at the same pace as the other industries have including the airline industry.

The way we do things is still very conventional and manual.

If the shipping industry adopted just few of the technological advances in managing ships, what would the face of ship management be like? I came up with below scenario and even though all the things I talk about already exist in other industries, to shipping professionals, it will sound like a scene from a sci fi movie. Please read on.

Its Raj’s first day at work with IBX, he is a bit nervous but confident from the 15 day training provided by the company before joining. He loved his previous job as a third engineer sailing onboard container ships but after his first daughter was born, he could not take the long time away from family and decided to find a shore job instead.

He works shifts with IBX but does not mind the late evening shift as it makes his commute to work much easier and faster with only little traffic, Pune traffic is getting worse by the day.

As he looks around, he sees around 20 others who are sitting behind several large screens with head sets on. As he settles, with a coffee on his desk, the phone starts to ring. One of the monitor immediately shows the name of the ship which is calling with some basic information about the ship including the name of the Master and Chief engineer. One screen shows the location of the ship on the map with the voyage plan and the speed and power she is doing currently. Raj is relieved to see that the ship is still moving at the required speed. He picks up the phone and greets the caller “Good evening, this is Raj from IBX 24/7 ship support, how can I help you today?”.

The Chief engineer of the vessel, Karen, requires some information about an equipment he is having trouble with and cannot find the instruction manual of. All the shortcuts to vessel information are already on Raj’s screen and he just clicks on the ‘Vessel manuals’ button to reach the library of instruction manuals for that ship. He quickly browses and finds the instruction manual of the equipment and clicks on a button which says ‘share’. Raj confirms that this is the information that Chief engineer requires and sends it to the vessel with a click of few buttons. The Chief engineer thanks him and hangs up. “The first call was not so bad”, Raj thinks to himself.


Within a few minutes, the phone rings again. Before answering the call, Raj notices that the ship is stopped in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. He knows this will be a long call.

The Chief engineer informs him that one of the main engine cylinder liner temperatures is increasing fast and he is afraid that the cylinder liner might be scuffed. Raj asks the Chief engineer some basic questions about the vessel’s location, actions taken so far and opens the troubleshooting database on his computer. As he types in the symptoms, the program generates a trouble shooting guide line, which he discusses with the Chief engineer while simultaneously ticking off the actions already taken. Raj’s gut feeling tells him that the cylinder liner needs replacement but the protocol does not allow him to approve any stoppages which are more than two hours. As he finishes filling up all the details, he presses the escalate button on the computer. The program is designed to identify the subject matter expert for each equipment and the phone starts to ring on one of the desks near Raj’s. Steve is about to finish his shift when his phone rings. He can see on his screen that the ship calling has a problem with her main engine cylinder liner and he can also see what are the actions already taken. He notes that the call is escalated to him by the new guy ‘Raj’. Steve used to work as a Service engineer with Wartsila and knows that he will be able to quickly resolve the issue and picks up the call. As per his experience, it is possible for the ship to cut off combustion to the unit and sail with reduced load. He discusses the same with the Chief engineer and agrees on the action. He has also checked on the weather tab while talking to the ship that the weather in the area will deteriorate in the next few hours which supports his decision. Once the call is disconnected, he enters the call details in the computer with what action has been agreed on. The program calculates any potential delay in the ETA of the ship to next port and alerts all the stake holders of the delay automatically.

A few desks away, Pushkar has logged into his computer. He works for the certification department and is browsing through the automatically populated list of certificates and surveys which are coming due for the 100 ships assigned to him. The program has automatically suggested the most cost effective ports for the surveys/ services as per the vessel schedule. Pushkar is going through the list and pressing the ‘Approve’ button for services/ surveys he wants to arrange. Pressing the Approve button automatically sends a mail to the ship and approved vendor with a service request, vessel schedule and agent details. Standard prices have already been negotiated for these ports.

In the training room, through a glass door, Raj can see some guys practising flying a drone through constricted spaces. He has heard rumours the present unmanned ships will be fitted with automatic flying drones which can also be controlled from the office. This reminds Raj of the robotic vacuum cleaner he bought a few years ago and how he can control it using an app on his phone from anywhere.

It’s time for a break and Raj walks over to the next desk introducing himself. The person on the next desk, Mohan introduces himself as a casualty expert who also provides 1st level support to the ships for Nautical matters. As Raj and Mohan walk towards the pantry they are joined by Vladimir who moved to Pune from Russia and is an expert in analytics. Raj is surprised to hear that Vladimir helps the ships in carrying out ‘Predictive Maintenance’ on equipment after analyzing the data that flows in automatically from the ships. Vladimir and his team also maintain the learning database which acts as a trouble shooting guide for 24/7 ship support team.

Raj is intrigued by Vladimir’s work so Vladimir proudly takes Raj to his desk and shows him the various reports, pictures and thermal images he and his team scans through every day. Raj is particularly impressed with some of the live feed from the ships and how the Analytics program automatically cross refer data to find problem areas.

There is a sudden commotion behind and Raj sees team leads of some department entering a meeting room “Casualty Room”. He has been in the room during the training period and remember its fitted with the most state of the art equipment and multiple screens. The room is used if a ship is in distress. He does not know what the emergency is but is sure that experienced people are supporting the ship.

Raj is back at his desk and gets back to work. He answers 15-20 calls from the ships and provides 1st level technical support to them. He has had to escalate some to experts and forward some to ship service and spares procurement department.

After finishing his shift, Raj drives back home feeling good about his first day at work and planning how he will spend the rest of the day with his daughter and wife.

Do you think this model can work for ship management companies?

I would like to hear your comments and feedback.

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