Topaz Energy and Marine is investing in onboard information technology and seafarer training to improve competencies on its offshore support vessels. According to Topaz chief executive René Kofod-Olsen, all of the senior officers on its fleet of more than 100 vessels are being given tablet computers to improve communications. The vessel owner has also invested in seafarer training to prepare crews for taking on more responsibility for onboard operations.
Topaz is also investing in the remote monitoring of vessels operating in the Middle East, the Caspian Sea and West Africa for fuel efficiency, planned maintenance and security reasons. “We are investing a lot in IT and rolling this out to the vessels over the next six months,” Mr Kofod-Olsen told delegates at Riviera’s Annual Offshore Support Journal Conference in London, in February.
“Our captains and officers will be getting iPads on ships for company communications. Our engineers, captains and senior officers are asked to be IT experts, as they operate on technically-advanced ships. So we need to provide them with the right equipment, so they can communicate with the shore.”
Topaz has also invested in vessel tracking technology, so it can monitor the fleet. This is for monitoring fuel efficiency, planning maintenance and spending less on drydocking. Mr Kofod-Olsen explained why these are important reasons to invest: “We need to plan six to eight months before a drydocking to reduce the downtime of the vessel, as this affects us in terms of yard costs and loss of revenues.” He added: “We monitor the fuel in remote regions because we have seen fuel and lubricant theft on our vessels.”
Topaz is also using a Microsoft-based IT platform to analyse and manage its commercial operations. "This helps the company see the benefits in operations, understand why we have not won certain business, and see what is working well,” said Mr Kofod-Olsen.
But Topaz’s biggest operational investment is in the seafarers working on its vessels. “We are empowering the crew by giving them more responsibility,” he said. “Otherwise, they feel disfranchised if shore managers take away more of the decisions. We are giving our crew the resources to make more decisions on board. We are taking expertise back to the ships and asking more from the captains. So, we need more crew training to improve competence on the ships.” He commented: “There is no replacement for exertise, not even with artificial intelligence.”
Also at the conference, OSM Maritime Group chief operating officer Oddvar Solemsli said seafarers need to be retrained with more IT knowledge. “Smart shipping will have a huge impact on offshore support vessels,” he said. “More automation and IT on the vessels will have an important impact going forward. So, we may see a change in the type of crew, with more enabled, technology-aware seafarers. The human element is still important,” he said.
Mr Solemsli added that more simulator training facilities were needed in areas where crew wanted to be trained. He commented: “Training needs to be stronger in the offshore support vessel sector as it is the most important investment. We have our own simulators in Manila in the Philippines”.
Caterpillar Marine, which was the platinum sponsor for the conference, has developed asset intelligence together with multi-engine load management to improve performance and reduce costs on offshore support vessels. Caterpillar offshore segment manager Bart Long explained how vessel operators can predict faults before they happen using the analytics in the Cat Asset Intelligence service. He said: “In a recent test, we had a digital system on board a vessel for a few months, and within a few weeks we identified that the number two diesel generator was burning 5 per cent more fuel than others that were on similar modes. This suggested that something was wrong and that perhaps the generator was due an overhaul.”
Royston, which won the Offshore Support Journal Environmental award, is developing algorithms for monitoring total energy consumption on vessels, including engines, generators, accommodation lighting, ventilation and air conditioning. Damian McCann, manager of engine products, said Royston will also be developing methods for measuring vessel trim and gaseous emissions.