How can fleet managers ensure that new communications technology and digitalisation works for and not against them?
As the industry teeters on the brink of a technological revolution that will see enormous changes required to remain competitive, owners and operators need to understand the fundamentals of new technology to ensure their upgrades are beneficial across their fleets.
Thome Group chief marine human resources officer Hanus Mikkelsen says that digitalisation can have positive and negative consequences on seafarer wellbeing and crew management.
He highlights instances where upgrades to communications on vessels have resulted in an increased use of social media and similar platforms. While he believes this can improve the welfare of seafarers, he cautions that it may also result in them becoming a greater safety risk, with reduced onboard productivity.
“Each crew member may become enwrapped in their own world of online entertainment in their own cabin and neglect social interactions with other crew members”
“This is a double-edged sword for our seafarers,” says Mr Mikkelsen. “On the one hand, [such technology] allows seafarers to keep in contact with their loved ones and updated on what is going on back home. On the other hand, connectivity also exposes seafarers to the risk of depression and frustration, when they are feel helpless because they are unable to be present to help in case of emergency situations at home.”
On-board digitalisation and the creation of more off-duty entertainment choices can also have an adverse impact on crew welfare, says Mr Mikkelsen: “This is because each crew member may unconsciously become enwrapped in their own world of online entertainment in their own cabin and neglect social interactions with other crew members onboard.”
While crew on OSVs increasingly expect the vessel to be fully connected, with entertainment facilities, online communication, and social media, they may not be aware of the negative impact of these tools and this is something that fleet managers need to address.
“Shipmanagers need to recognise the importance of a crew’s mental health and educate the management team onboard their vessels to identify and assist crew members who may be struggling with these issues,” says Mr Mikkelsen.
“Deliberate efforts must be made to engage the crew through regular [team] interactions as well as via one-on-one communication, so that hopefully such issues will be brought forward and addressed properly.”
Mr Mikkelsen says that shipmanagers must understand that a seafarer who is mentally preoccupied with personal issues “may mistakenly overlook safety consciousness, which in turn greatly increases the risk of accidents”. Therefore, he says, shipmanagers need to effectively manage onboard connectivity and access to online media to provide appropriate welfare for their crew.