Satcoms and COVID

Feb 11 2021

Jens Ewerling of Cobham SATCOM tells the vessel communications story of the pandemic.

Following the global spread of COVID-19, and consequent crew-change crisis, the importance of reliable and sophisticated connectivity is fast moving beyond that of just ensuring the physical safety and wellbeing of crew.


In fact, data from a recent survey conducted by AST Group showed that video calls on WhatsApp had increased by 79% during the pandemic.


The survey results reflect the increased reliance by seafarers for internet applications and video conferencing services to connect with family and loved ones onshore. 


Installing connectivity solutions to provide high performing broadband internet, to ensure total crew wellbeing, and facilitate services such as video conferencing and safeguard operations, is widely acknowledged as integral to future operations.

In August this year it was confirmed by the Panama Ship Registry that the Panama-flagged M/V Wakashio had grounded due to the ship coming too close to shore as it sought mobile phone reception so its crew could speak to their families.


As survey after survey and extensive anecdotal data has confirmed, seafarers will prioritise employment with ship owners and operators who provide rapid and reliable internet connectivity at sea.


With a current shortfall of approximately 15,000 officers, investment in connectivity solutions could also save huge recruitment costs in the long term. 


Although the impact of COVID-19 is changing the maritime industry’s perception of what it can achieve with advanced ship-shore connectivity, the reality is that adoption of robust and reliable connectivity systems remains uneven across shipping’s different sectors.


Up to 50,000 of the world’s commercial shipping and fishing fleets, and around 15,200 tankers in total, are already equipped with Ku- or Ka-band VSAT for broadband services on-board.


But COVID-19 is slowing the rollout of broadband projects due to travel restrictions and reduced availability of ship access in ports.


In addition, with an increasing number of countries recognising the importance of employee mental health, we are increasingly likely to see the implementation of laws within the next decade that will require a far greater investment from their employers.


To invest in a total connectivity solution now is to stay one step ahead of the curve.


At Cobham SATCOM, improving the safety and wellbeing of those at sea through reliable and rapid connectivity is at the heart of all our innovation.


Since the 1980s, we have been developing connectivity solutions to protect those at sea in the world’s toughest environments in all circumstances.


It’s a recognition that’s increasingly widely shared, and we have recently seen an increase in enquiries for our SAILOR and Sea Tel product ranges, reflecting an awareness and accelerated desire for sophisticated maritime communications solutions.


For example, on top of an installed base of around 12,000 Sea Tel VSAT antennas we are looking to soon celebrate the shipment of our 14,000th SAILOR VSAT antenna system.


We also recently ran a webinar series which was well received showing not only an increase in interest in online training experiences, but an ongoing need on behalf of crew to enhance understanding around current and future maritime connectivity solutions.


With new mega satellite constellations due to come into commercial service between 2022 and 2024, sophisticated connectivity solutions providing powerful and fast broadband connectivity out at sea are set to become industry standard over the next decade.


However, there exists mature maritime connectivity networks, such as Inmarsat’s Fleet Xpress network coupled with futureproof SAILOR VSAT connectivity solutions, which offer high data speeds and has the capability to set new standards in the maritime sphere both now and in the future.


The coronavirus crisis has highlighted not only the important role of internet applications and video conferencing in connecting crew with family and loved ones but their value in attracting and retaining the next generation of seafarers.


During times of crisis, there lies opportunity for re-evaluation.


As an industry it is apparent that better standards need to be set for seafarers to ensure total wellbeing and the continuation of our industry; with the connectivity solutions currently available and seafarers’ reliance on internet applications at an all-time high, now is the time for vessel owners to future proof operations and invest in their crew.


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