Working Together

From the largest vessels afloat to the smallest offices shoreside, ship management companies leverage changing perspectives and new technologies to foster global teamwork.

Tanker managed by MTM Ship Management
Image courtesy MTM Ship Management

Published Oct 5, 2022 5:00 PM by Chad Fuhrmann

(Article originally published in July/Aug 2022 edition.)

Ship management has always been a complex endeavor. Even before departure, a vessel must undergo rigorous inspections and audits by flag state authorities, class societies and protection & indemnity associations. In addition, charterers require solid assurances that the vessel can execute the task for which it has been hired.

While in its barest sense a vessel’s mission is simply to transit between two points, a voyage is never just about getting the physical asset from one place to another. Even if a vessel’s transit does not cross international boundaries, its seemingly straightforward activity can be complicated by politics, policies and, most recently, pandemics.

All of this confirms the importance of experts from across the maritime spectrum working together to achieve success. “Successful ship management,” says Captain Rajiv Singhal, Managing Director of MTM Ship Management, “is about maintaining asset value and viability for our customers via on board professionals, experienced shoreside staff and, most importantly, effective collaboration between the two.”

Burgeoning new tech features and increasing access to data keep expanding the role of ship managers. Rather than simply streamlining tasks or reducing the number of management responsibilities, technological advances are encouraging managers to deliberately leverage new tools to reach beyond their historical remits and embrace sustainability in its broadest definition.

New ship management services focus on and include environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues as well as related industry concerns.

Searching for What’s Next

With ESG as a prime example, industry and societal concerns are shifting frequently, matched only by the pace of the technology that’s increasingly used to quantify and interpret data. Ship management organizations must leverage that tech to improve how they execute their services and determine what new services they might offer the industry.

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) has changed the way that ship management companies collect and utilize the data captured from across the globe. MTM, for example, has developed its ERP platform to capture emissions data and report it to regulatory bodies in keeping with international requirements. The platform facilitates the transfer of relevant data to various entities for industry initiatives aimed at creating more transparency. All of this allows MTM and its clients to be prepared to meet future regulations – such as the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP) – long before the deadline.

“MTM’s mission has always been not only to operate ships at the highest safety standards but to go beyond regulatory requirements and find ways to reduce the environmental footprint of the company’s maritime activities,” says Singhal. “The ultimate goal is a future with zero GHG emissions.”

The pandemic represents an event that forcibly changed every part of the industry. For ship managers, it forced a significant reconsideration of the value of data. Ship management companies created ways of tracking infections on vessels and developed robust management programs to prevent its spread from ship to shore.

MTM was among the first to develop suitable onboard facilities and provide vessels and personnel with the appropriate equipment and PPE. While the situation has improved, MTM’s Singhal notes that COVID’s impact is still felt across the industry and continues to present challenges.

Columbia Shipmanagement (CSM) was one of the first ship managers to provide 24/7 performance and optimization monitoring. But, as Pankaj Sharma, Manager of CSM’s Performance Optimization Control Room (POCR), explains, “Today’s markets are constantly evolving, and we are always searching for what’s next.”

As COVID-19 brought many onsite activities to a standstill, CSM was able to offer the industry much needed support via its POCR, which allowed vessels to manage a large number of critical operations through a single dedicated digital platform.

One of the objectives of CSM’s POCR is to set the company apart from its competition with a more proactive approach to ship management, effectively starting the oversight of a vessel’s voyage before it even starts. A relatively new aspect of this approach is the monitoring of sanctioned areas and other areas of increased risk.

From legal disputes in the courts to armed conflicts, political turmoil likewise requires ship management companies to be prepared for the unexpected. In response to the Ukraine conflict, POCR has provided CSM with an enhanced monitoring campaign for vessels in danger zones globally. The service offers geolocation of events, safety corridors, consolidated intelligence information and other data aimed at keeping personnel safe and preserving commercial trade.

Beyond the Horizon

While port time is potentially the most complicated aspect of a vessel’s business, the transit between ports is increasingly being scrutinized for efficiency and safety, making no single aspect of a ship’s activities out of sight even when the vessel is beyond the horizon.

CSM recently unveiled its POCR And Next Generation IoT/AI (PANGIA) project in cooperation with partners Blue Dynamics and the Cyprus Marine & Maritime Institute (CMMI).  According to POCR Manager Sharma, PANGIA is the next stage in the evolution of POCR toward significant enhancement of its solution services and represents a significant enhancement of the current POCR solution via modern techniques in data gathering and data science.

Through PANGIA, CSM’s clients will benefit from improved digitalization driven by AI. POCR can collate and interpret an array of industry intelligence that allows its clients to optimize their decision-making processes regardless of where any vessel in their fleet is located. PANGIA will further enable CSM to offer best-in-class services to its global shipping clients, focusing on cost optimization, improvement of margins and alignment with IMO directives.

Much like the core deliverables of any ship management organization, PANGIA and other efforts require teamwork in the form of partnerships, collaboration and joint initiatives to facilitate the creation of a more manageable maritime world.

Top-tier managers believe they’re embracing every aspect of comprehensive ship management. While each company has its own policies and operating standards, growing concerns about issues like ESG tend to put the inner workings and values of every company on display, thereby discovering their similarities, strengths, weaknesses and, most importantly, where they can work together to improve conditions for the most critical element of ship management – the seafarer.  

“We all strive to be more efficient on all levels and clearly understand that the most expensive capital is the human one,” says MTM’s Singhal.

Human Interface

From the very outset, of course, a qualified complement of personnel is required to man the vessel during operation, and each individual must be suitably trained and certified commensurate with their role. 

CSM’s PANGIA project focuses on what Sharma calls “the user of the future” and counts on their growing up immersed in technologies that will play a critical role in the industry’s evolution. The PANGIA vision creates something for that future that includes holo-lenses and virtual reality synaptic technology that offers a “hands-on” experience not only for training but for onboard maintenance, connecting shoreside expertise with personnel at sea.

Combined with other forms of data collection and interpretation, this level of ship management connects disparate parts of the work and can truly revolutionize the industry. According to Captain Singhal, MTM is further investigating the advantages of vessel tracking, remote digital surveying and standardized condition reporting: “We anticipate seeing greater employee utilization of new technology that will lead to increased fuel savings and a reduced carbon footprint per vessel resulting from less travel and improved human-ship interaction.”

Regardless of the amount of data gathering and interpretation or even the amount of autonomy applied to vessel operations, the human element remains the single most critical component of successful ship management.

Working Together

The commercial viability of a vessel is dependent on myriad factors that fall under the watchful and expanding eye of its ship management organization. With the increasing oversight and availability of data, successful management of an increasingly complex sector means maintaining an impressive level of teamwork both shoreside and afloat. 

MTM’s Singhal is not shy on this point, stating that “It’s of the ultimate benefit to all shipping industry stakeholders that, while we’re trying to reach our common goals, we all become more inclusive and more extroverted and share the knowledge and experience among us.”

Modern ship management companies are on the leading edge of a movement toward faster and more efficient vessel operations. As the world becomes more connected, these companies are finding their roles expanding as more of the minutiae of vessel operations and management becomes easier to quantify and monitor. 

Strong advocates of change, they’re certain that the industry will see technology playing a key role in everything from decarbonization to training to operational assurance and regulation and beyond, ultimately helping companies uphold the highest standards with reliability and continual improvement. 

Chad Fuhrmann is the founder of Revolution Consulting X Engineering.

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