Insurers See New Technology Risks at Sea
Digital technology helps ships and their crews work more efficiently and safely every day, with new electronic tools installed everywhere from bridge to engine room and many points between. But as well-designed, useful digital solutions make their way into engine management, navigation, and other mission-critical functions, the advance of networked electronic devices may also come with some downsides.
Cyber threat awareness is rising in the maritime industry, with published alerts of external hazards like GPS jamming. Crew actions, intentional or otherwise, may also form a part of the cyber threat to shipboard systems. For example, crewmembers may unknowingly open email attachments containing malicious software while using a networked system – a primary vulnerability to any company's IT infrastructure, ashore or afloat – or, with intent and skill, they may be able to overwrite the record on some models of voyage data recorder (VDR).
Additionally, mobile devices may pose a distraction to watchstanders. In one well-known example, the K-Sea Transportation tug Caribbean Sea pushed its barge tow over top of a tour boat in Philadelphia in 2010, killing two and injuring many of the 35 aboard. The officer on watch pled guilty to criminal charges and was sentenced to one year; he admitted in court that he had been distracted by his phone and his laptop for some time before the collision occurred.
In addition to the known risk of cyber threats and watchstander distractions, a new memo issued Thursday warns that communications tools connecting seafarers with their families may pose an unforeseen hazard to shipboard operations.
“While many ships now offer technology such as satellite video calling to keep crews in touch with loved ones back home, care should be taken to ensure this does not make matters worse. For some seafarers, having easy access to friends, family and their ongoing domestic problems could lead to increased anxiety compared to the traditional clean break of departure,” said Tony Baker, loss prevention director at insurer North P&I.
Separately, North P&I has warned shipowners to be aware of potential criminal use of digital 3D scanners and printers. These are reportedly being used to clone and replace the security seals on shipping containers after break-ins. “The seals can be made within 10 minutes and include all the relevant identification marks, so thefts may remain undetected until containers reach their final destinations,” said North P&I deputy loss prevention director Colin Gillespie.
“The digital age has brought extraordinary benefits to the shipping industry and to crews, particularly in terms of improved safety, efficiency and communications. However, it is important for shipowners and seafarers not to let digital technology completely replace . . . a hands-on, common-sense approach to safety and security,” Gillespie concluded.