Reliable, high-speed onboard connectivity is integral to crew welfare and helps vessel operators to attract and retain the best talent
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic and its well-documented impact on seafarer welfare, the provision of onboard crew connectivity was becoming a priority for shipping companies worldwide. In a 2022 Inmarsat-commissioned report, Seafarers in the Digital Age, 78% of vessel operators surveyed reported that they had, in the previous five years, installed internet connectivity aboard their ships for the personal use of crew.
Nevertheless, the Seafarer Happiness Index for the first quarter of 2022 found that crew well-being had sunk to its lowest level since the Index was founded in 2015. With limited access to a “basic internet connection” cited as a primary cause for this decline, it is clear that more needs to be done to improve working conditions at sea.
The recent inclusion of mandatory internet access in the Maritime Labour Convention is a positive development, providing regulatory support to calls for enhanced crew welfare. Yet even aside from fulfilling regulatory requirements and moral obligations to employees, companies have much to gain from offering high-quality onboard connectivity, according to Ben Palmer, President, Inmarsat Maritime.
“With consistent access to communication, entertainment and other online services in their spare time, crew are less likely to feel isolated and mentally fatigued, allowing owners and operators to benefit from a more motivated and productive workforce,” says Palmer. “This, in turn, supports safer and more efficient vessel operations.
“What’s more, crew connectivity has emerged as a competitive differentiator, with the offer of high-speed internet helping companies to attract and retain the best talent. In fact, one in three crew members surveyed in Seafarers in the Digital Age named access to digital technology as the most important factor in considering a new employer – even ahead of salary.”
Against this background, crew-related data consumption is on the rise. According to latest Inmarsat statistics, crew network usage grew by 149% between June 2021 and June 2022; as a consequence, shipping companies are increasingly turning to connectivity services that offer the bandwidth, speed and functionality to meet seafarer expectations – services like Inmarsat’s Fleet Hotspot.
“Fleet Hotspot is a crew connectivity solution that delivers reliable, high-speed internet access through our industry-leading Fleet Xpress, allowing seafarers to communicate with friends and family and enjoy online entertainment aboard the vessel,” explains Palmer. “Through the user-friendly portal, crew can monitor usage and top up their balance using their own devices – and can even access their account from home and purchase data before boarding. In addition, by providing a dedicated network, Fleet Hotspot enables crew to surf the internet without interfering with mission-critical bandwidth or exposing business operations to cyber threats.”
Palmer adds that the solution, which recently won the Mission to Seafarers ‘Innovation Award’ for its “outstanding contribution to crew welfare”, is experiencing “rapid growth in uptake and usage” having found a ready audience with some of the world’s foremost vessel operators and managers.
In 2021, leading liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) transport group Petredec, a long-standing Inmarsat customer, trialled the service in a pilot installation. As a signatory of the Neptune Declaration on Seafarer Wellbeing and Crew Change, Petredec is committed to providing its employees with the highest-quality connectivity. Following positive feedback from its crew, the company opted to deploy Fleet Hotspot across its fleet of 37 LPG vessels.
Another company making good use of Fleet Hotspot is Anglo-Eastern Ship Management, a leading global provider of ship-management services. In 2019, Anglo-Eastern became one of the first companies to sign up for the solution, offering its crew reliable, high-speed connectivity and the freedom to use their own devices on board. Having doubled its seafarers’ free internet allowance in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing crew-change crisis, the ship manager now increases allowance every ‘Day of the Seafarer’ and on festive occasions.
Inmarsat itself also offers seasonal Fleet Hotspot promotions for seafarers. More on its Christmas campaign will be unveiled in the next week.
Sign up for our newsletter