Artificial Experience

Simulation technologies take center stage at maritime training academies.

Credit: Centre for Marine Simulation Canada
Credit: Centre for Marine Simulation Canada

Published Dec 28, 2019 3:35 PM by Wendy Laursen

(Article originally published in July/Aug 2019 edition.)

The “artificial” experience provided by simulators is widely recognized as both effective and cost-efficient, says Captain Chris Hearn, Director of the Centre for Marine Simulation (CMS) at the Marine Institute of Memorial University, Canada.

CMS has the most comprehensive suite of maritime simulators in Canada and is expanding its capacity further with the addition of another bridge simulator – this one for a shuttle tanker – in partnership with industry clients. The simulator will be integrated with others at CMS to allow for multi-ship operations including ship-to-ship transfers between tankers.

CMS has a history of managing large technology research projects that improve its simulation capacity and is currently partnering in a project involving dynamic positioning technology for drilling operations in ice-covered waters. While other project partners focus on the technology and commercial aspects, CMS is working on more realistic ice simulation.

Digital Twins

Improvements in technology continue to change how training is conducted, says Hearn. There’s a new emphasis on so-called digital twin technology, and CMS is collaborating with a diverse group of partners to develop a digital twin application that is primarily focused on how shore-based management centers for offshore oil and gas operations interact with offshore assets and offshore support vessels. The intent is to eventually have a digital twin of an offshore field, its assets and its subsea components that can be used on shore for education and training.

The Centre for Marine Training and Research at Georgian College, Canada is also adopting digital twin technology, including the latest class of ships built for the Great Lakes Seaway and a recent high-tech ferry, the Pelee Islander II. Centre Director Thomas Aulinger says, “Here the owner, Ontario Ferries, had the foresight to make a virtual twin of the vessel prior to construction in order to train the crew before the arrival of the vessel from the shipyard.”

The College offers over 30 marine courses in its new Marine Emergency Duties facility, simulation labs and also off site. Aulinger says developments in simulation technology and program development are constantly evolving, and the College is currently installing another simulator with the latest generation of Kongsberg K-Sim technology with dynamic positioning in combination with an existing engine room simulator.

Existing Wärtsilä bridges are also being upgraded with consoles reflecting the latest changes seen on ships. “An upgrade to 75-inch vertical monitors in a Class A bridge simulator scenario provides an unparalleled experience for students,” says Aulinger. “Here too, dynamic positioning capability has been integrated. Furthermore, the College invests in both hydrodynamic and area-modeling capabilities. As such, we are one of the few schools in North America able to provide clients with this service on both the Wärtsilä and Kongsberg systems.”

If possible, the College strives to incorporate hands-on or simulator exercises in courses which by IMO standards are otherwise highly theory-based. There are numerous examples where more simulated training – prior to increasing a junior employee's responsibilities, for example – could be beneficial, says Aulinger.

“As advanced technologies are developed in industry, we are able to reflect these technologies in our simulation systems for training,” he explains. “These will include simulating such technologies as auto-docking and auto-locking while integrating hyper-accurate forces such as squat and piston effect within a lock.”

Real-Life Scenarios

Sea stories are an integral part of Resolve Maritime Academy's course offerings. The U.S.-based academy has recently reduced its curriculum to focus on firefighting. “Our Resolve team members have fought container ship and bulk fires,” says Joseph Farrell III, Director of Business Development. “For example, I was actually at a bulk ship fire about a year and a half ago off Africa, so we bring that to the academy as our edge.”

Farrell notes his own early-career training experience at another school: “Our firefighting training was at a house where we put out a hay fire, and that was enough to meet the core requirements for the Coast Guard. At Resolve, we do it very differently. We have a real Class A fire in a compartment that people have to come down and fight.” The 180-foot training prop is designed as a ship with three decks. “Students have to negotiate small alleys and ladder wells. “It's very tight, and the fire hose can get stuck, so it's like a real ship fire,” says Farrell.

Cruise lines are one sector taking particular advantage of the facility, often providing their own case studies and near-miss experiences to be incorporated into the training. Resolve is now planning the construction of a new fire trainer using the latest technology in fire props and able to provide both Class A and propane-generated fire training.

“The new fire trainer will allow us to provide realistic training beyond meeting regulatory requirements,” says Director Denise Jones. “Our trainer will accommodate cruise ship scenarios with a live grease fire, a balcony fire, entry into a fire space from above and from a long corridor, to name just a few.”

Earlier this year, STAR Center in the U.S. launched a new on-campus firefighting training simulator to expand required STCW and Military Sealift Command course offerings at the AMO Safety and Education Plans’ training center in Florida. The new simulator, designed by Fireblast Global, has received U.S. Coast Guard site approval and can accommodate the training needs of both AMO members and commercial mariners. The new fire field and simulator have the ability to replicate shipboard firefighting scenarios above and below decks. The helicopter props effectively simulate helicopter firefighting operations and deck fires.

Innovations & Upgrades

At MITAGS in the U.S., it’s common to have four or more simulators integrated into one exercise for port operation studies or advanced training.

Glen Paine, Executive Director, MMP MATES Program (MITAGS), says this is just one part of the innovation going on. Additionally, MITAGS has expanded its Maritime Apprenticeship Program to include unlimited tonnage licenses for oceans and inland waters. “These new programs are based off our highly successful Workboat Mate Program,” he says. “In addition to those seeking an entry-level opportunity to quickly advance, they are ideal for retired military and others looking to start a second career in the maritime industry. In addition, we are standing up a similar program for the engine department by year-end.”

MITAGS is also expanding its highly successful Navigation Skills Assessment Program (NSAP®) to most industry sectors. “We now offer watchkeeping assessment scenarios for management/operational levels for the deep sea, workboat, river, cruise ship and ferry sectors,” says Paine. “We also have assessment centers in the U.K., Croatia, India and the Philippines.”

Paine says mariners are coming from diverse backgrounds and seek training that meets their specific needs: “One of the great benefits of NSAP® is the training officer receives a detailed report on a mariner’s strengths and weaknesses. From the report, a custom training program can be developed with an objective methodology to measure change in performance after training. We see these types of detailed assessments being used in engineering and cargo operations as well.”

Maritime Professional Training (MPT) in the U.S. is upgrading projection technology for its main bridge simulator and introducing additional integration for engineering and navigation simulators. Courses are being harmonized with a number of overseas academies so that joint scenarios can be conducted.

“Our industry is evolving,” says COO Ted Morley, “and training providers have to evolve right along with it to maintain the viability and applicability of their training. Ships and vessels are increasingly complex with smaller crew sizes. If the training doesn’t keep pace, then efficiency and safety suffer.” MPT has been engaged in workshops and “town hall” presentations to introduce a wider demographic to the industry and attract new recruits. There are job opportunities out there at virtually all skill levels, he says.

MPT also conducts regulatory and non-regulatory leadership training. “Many companies want to include their own procedures and policies in these classes to ensure they are not only familiar to the crew but also that they are viable and effective,” adds Morley. Skill assessment and revalidation are major focus areas. “Ensuring a mariner has the knowledge and competence at the time of certification is only part of it. If those skills aren’t used, they are lost. It’s vital to look at recurring training and competence assessments to ensure ongoing capability.”

Svitzer has its own in-house simulators, including in the Bahamas, where ongoing training is provided to both staff and external clients. Denmark’s Force Technology is modeling regional ports and vessels from the company's tug fleet. Svitzer says more and more clients, such as terminals, port authorities and pilots, are wanting to try out different towing techniques for their ports. The company has its own staff training policy and has also trained captains from Brazil, Peru and Canada and pilots from Equinor and Peru LNG at the Svitzer facility in Freeport.

Ralph Franjul, Svitzer’s Country Manager for the Bahamas, says the main advantage of conducting the training in-house is being able to train crews to the company's high standards and ensure safe collaboration during operations among clients, pilots and Svitzer crews. “The flexibility of having our own simulator is also priceless,” he notes.

Ongoing Evolution

Synthetic rope manufacturer Samson has initiated a new program to help customers maximize line life and reduce risk. The new integrated technology and service solution, Icaria® for Mooring, is designed to facilitate the transition to OCIMF's Mooring Equipment Guidelines, Fourth Edition.

One of the major components of Icaria, called “Classroom,” offers a set of virtual tools with consistently updated course content designed to allow for easy competency management of crews and certification programs for key specialist skills. It’s another example of the ongoing evolution of education and training in the maritime industry.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.