IEC Telecom Notes Importance of Communications Access for Seafarers

Image courtesy of IEC Telecom
Image courtesy of IEC Telecom

Published Apr 21, 2022 11:35 AM by The Maritime Executive

[By: IEC Telecom]

In challenging times crew comms are critical for all ships, large or small crew communications are widely accepted as an important element of seafarer welfare provision and vessel operators are now prioritising onboard systems to enable crew to keep in touch with home. The crisis in Ukraine and the Covid-19  pandemic have highlighted the vital need for internet access and contact with home, while seafarer surveys regularly identify connectivity as a key factor in onboard happiness, recruitment, and retention. 

The vital role played by crew connectivity in seafarer well-being was underscored  recently when the International Maritime Organization (IMO) approved measures  aimed at enhancing crew communications for seafarers impacted by the conflict in  Ukraine. These measures were put forward by a number of maritime industry  groups and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) – demonstrating the  strength of feeling within the whole maritime industry that crew should be able to  communicate with home and loved ones and have access to information sources  while at sea. 

The IMO Council welcomed the proposal that a number of steps should be taken  to reduce the suffering of seafarers and their families, including that: “seafarers  affected by the conflict should be allowed free access to communications with their  families”. 

The Covid-19 pandemic, and more recently the crisis in Ukraine, have underscored  the vital importance of crew communications on seafarer mental health. And crew  health and well-being is an important factor in maritime business operations. Crew  represent the largest ship operating costs and the International Maritime Health  Association (IMHA) has found that one in five ships has to divert due to crew illness  every year, at an average cost per ship of $180,000. 

The need for crew communications is strongly evident. At the peak of the  pandemic, maritime charity ISWAN, which provides 24-hour multilingual helplines  for seafarers and their families, reported it handled more than 2,000 calls in just  one month – triple the number for the same period before the Covid-19 outbreak.  ISWAN’s project manager Caitlin Vaughan noted that crew communications are  particularly important at times of significant family events that the seafarer is  unable to be present for, during times of cultural celebration, or to alleviate homesickness. 

Connectivity is vitally important to seafarers, and it is good to note that greater availability is improving health and well-being. The latest Seafarer Happiness report from Mission to Seafarers found that the current happiness level in relation to connectivity at sea is 6.92 out of 10, up from 6.6. The report states: “Today internet on board is vital. Nobody will stay onboard with poor, expensive, or  ineffective network systems.” 

Having crew comms at sea is now recognised as a key factor in recruitment and retention and crew surveys have revealed that some crew would change jobs for better internet access even if there was no extra salary on offer. Other industry surveys have identified a clear divide between vessels that provide free or cost effective access, versus those that do not, with increasing numbers of seafarers stating that they check what access they will have before accepting new contracts  – a trend widely predicted to grow. For example, the Futurenautics 2017 survey  reported 92% of seafarers said connectivity strongly or very strongly influenced  their choice of employer. 

But what happens when your vessel is smaller, has little space for communications  systems, or budgets are limited? 

That’s where compact and versatile systems come into their own.  MarineStar E-lite is one such solution, delivering voice and data connectivity in a  package that is specially optimised for smaller vessels. Voice services are delivered  over Thuraya’s MarineStar terminal while encrypted email provision comes via IEC  Telecom’s OneMailLite application. 

Quick and easy to install, MarineStar E-Lite enables crew welfare communication  as well as reliable access to navigation updates, port notifications, operational  instructions, and continuous tracking and monitoring. With fleetwide management  control, separate lines for corporate and crew communications, and flexible  crew-calling plans, MarineStar E-Lite is a cost-effective alternative to radio and  GSM. 

Nabil Ben Soussia, Group CCO, President Asia, Middle East and CIS for  IEC Telecom, observed: “No-one wants to be away from home at a time of crisis  but for many seafarers that is an every day fact of life. Being able to keep in touch  with family, friends and world news is essential to them and we are pleased to be  able to play a part in delivering that communication, especially in these uncertain  times.”  

In support of impacted seafarers and their families, IEC Telecom, which has a long  history of helping humanitarian efforts, has also significantly reduced its call  charges to Ukraine making it easier for vessel operators to provide crucial crew  communications. 

Mr Ben Soussia commented: “In today’s competitive marketplace it is important  to keep pace with workplace developments. Crew connectivity is now a must and  something crew, especially younger members, expect. Technology has moved on  and now that it is possible to meet those needs even on smaller vessels with  limited space or budgets, why wouldn’t you? After all, a happy crew is important  to your vessel’s operations.” 

The products and services herein described in this press release are not endorsed by The Maritime Executive.