More investment needed in crew welfare technologies – report

A new report into crew welfare and maritime technology investment trends, released on the Day of the Seafarer on June 25th, has shown that investment in digital services benefiting worker welfare lags woefully behind spending in other vessel operations sectors.

The Welfare 2.0: How can the next generation of technology enable better crew safety, health and wellbeing at sea? report was commissioned by Inmarsat and prepared by consultancy Thetius. It follows an earlier Trade 2.0 report focusing on the impact new technologies and start-ups can have on efficiency in vessel management.

“When we first discussed this report last year with the author and the welfare organisations and charities we work closely with, none of us could have foreseen the impact that COVID-19 would have on the world, shipping, seafarers and their families,” said Ronald Spithout, President, Inmarsat Maritime.

“However, even then, we all felt that safety and crew welfare was being left behind in the technology stakes and much more needed to be done to look at how it could help improve the lives of seafarers.”

The new report explores the underlying factors affecting crew safety, welfare and learning, and highlights some of the companies working to address these pain points. It shows that, while the maritime industry likes to describe itself as having seafarer safety and welfare as its highest priority, lack of investment in technologies benefiting worker welfare seriously undermines that narrative. 

“We are at a point in time when lack of shore leave, unplanned contract extensions, fear of job loss and separation from family are weighing heavily on seafarers worldwide,” said Mr Spithout.

“Technology cannot provide a ‘silver bullet’. However, its role is vital in embedding policies and practices to enhance safety and wellbeing on board. Data-based tools test what does and doesn’t work for the ‘human element’ and track changes over time.”

The report notes that investments in crew welfare start-ups pale in comparison with vessel management technology. While difficult to break-out, according to the study some $3.8 billion is spent on ship management software each year, dwarfing the $2.25 million in average investment attracted by start-ups focusing on issues like wellbeing, welfare and safety since 2010. This compares to $9.6 million for ship performance technology start-ups, for example.

The report also explores possible consequences of the coronavirus pandemic for seafarer training, with the closure of education facilities encouraging faster uptake of remote learning. Wallem, Anglo-Eastern and Star Bulk have deployed virtual training from OMS-VR to learn about dangerous activities, while UK-based Seabot XR is developing ship-specific VR and augmented reality training and familiarisation systems, accessible to seafarers via their smartphones.

Inmarsat says that it has already begun work on the launch of a new corporate start-up collaboration programme called the ‘Crew Welfare Open Innovation Challenge’, in partnership with Shell Shipping and Maritime and Thetius, to promote the development of digital systems specifically aimed at crew wellbeing.

“Technology is not the only answer, but its development is vital if the industry is going to start to eliminate the issues we currently face with crew wellbeing,” said Mr Spithout.

“It is imperative that all stakeholders now come together to create and work on common platforms to collect data, anonymise it, share it and use it to identify wider welfare trends.”

The report can be downloaded from here.

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About the Author

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Rob O'Dwyer

Rob is Chief Network Officer and one of the founders of Smart Maritime Network. He also serves as Chairman of the Smart Maritime Council. Rob has worked in the maritime technology sector since 2005, managing editorial for a range of leading publications in the transport and logistics sector. Get in touch by email by clicking here, or on LinkedIn by clicking here.

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