Thursday, 30 July 2009

Vital Signs: the future of Telemedicine at sea

Facilities for emergency medical assistance at sea have to be cost effective. If there is a casualty or a sick crewmember, decisions made have enormous financial consequences either way: diverting a ship when not required costs money, and not diverting a ship when required can have deadly repercussions for the sick or injured crewmember.

Modern technology can assist a Master enormously in promoting prompt and pertinent medical treatment. Telemedicine, as this service is commonly called, has made staggering progress on the back of satellite based communication systems nowadays. With complex satellite technology, video conferencing and email, real time medical specialist consultation is a reality today. Gone are the days when the crew were completely on their own in the event of an accident, or had to be content with a phone call or two to shore based specialists, as started happening in the eighties.

Another tool that is becoming increasingly available to Masters of ships when it comes to seeking specialist help: remote diagnostic monitoring of vital signs. This process is as simple as “plugging in a USB line," says Frank August, Director of business development for Inmarsat, the satellite network people. “I don't believe the industry is fully aware of the current capabilities and ease of use," he adds.

As we well know, satellites can transmit all kinds of data anywhere on earth. Bandwidths, speeds and newer technology used by satellite companies like Inmarsat and Iridium have upgraded this now to a stage when the entire world, including the polar regions, are covered by wireless networks: Iridium, for example, has a 66 satellite network and launched its special ‘OpenPort’ service last year, connecting networks at speed up to 128 kilobits per second (kbps). It is therefore possible, today, to transmit digital camera images of a crewmember’s injury to a specialist doctor ashore in almost real time. Not just that, dedicated lines ensure that data can be sent simultaneously when, say, a phone call is in progress, allowing a Master to consult a doctor at the same time as the camera is showing him what exactly the injury looks like. The next generation of OpenPort technology will allow video footage to be broadcast similarly as well; present systems allow only compressed video files to be broadcast. Inmarsat 4 goes further, transmitting data at 432 kbps.

Photographs and video footage are being increasingly seen as important data inputs for a doctor to give correct advice when he or she is located thousands of miles away from a ship. Diagnostic data transmission is, likewise, a staggeringly effective tool when a patient may be seriously sick on a ship. Although shore based networks allow streaming media without fluctuation in speed or fuzziness, these systems have not been available at sea so far, but times are changing fast.

However, the transfer of medical data, video and camera footage from a ship to a shore doctor is just half the equation; accurate diagnosis and follow up is as critical. Organisations that assist the Master with specialist doctors and nurses on call twenty four hours a day have existed for many years. Now, they too, are streamlining their operations to take advantage of new technology.

One such well known organisation in the US is MedAire. Although it has provided medical expertise to mariners and aviators for more than two decades through its global emergency response centers, technology advances in telemedicine allow it to go much further now. "Clients are now leveraging the Internet more," says Jill Drake, Marketing Director for MedAire. "They call us for an initial diagnosis, and then can follow up via email. With email you can send a picture of a wound, and it's often easier to read and understand a diagnosis when it's in email form.” In addition, communication issues with doctors and crew speaking different languages become minimal with remote diagnostics allowing crew to collect and transmit data on a patient's vital signs, including EKGs, to shore side medical services. MedAire collaborates with Remote Diagnostic Technologies Ltd. (RDT) of the United Kingdom; the monitor sends the patients vital signs to MedAire’s response centre in Phoenix, Arizona.
"It's virtually like being in a hospital emergency room because you're receiving information directly from a vessel," Drake says. Images are high resolution and amazingly clear.

MedAire says that subscription to its Medical Advisory Service (MAS), gives crew “access to unlimited telephone and email consultations from licensed doctors and registered nurses”. MAS matches remote medical expertise with onboard medical equipment and stores, with response teams comprising “emergency doctors, registered nurses certified in advance cardiac life support and communication specialists who handle case logistics”. Moreover, MedAire will coordinate, if necessary, medical evacuations, repatriations, and the location of appropriate shore side medical facilities “so the captain can focus on maritime operations.”

Companies offering remote medical advice work on an annual contract basis, with a fee ranging from below US$ 1000 to up to $6000 or so, depending on crew size, the run of the vessel, the level of training of personnel aboard and other factors. Many shipping companies see this as an additional expense not worth the price tag. However, as a spokesperson for one company providing these services says, "It only takes one case where we either treat appropriately and avoid a vessel diversion, or we direct an immediate evacuation versus waiting two days to get to port, to recover the cost of the service for years to come." Besides, increased competition is pushing lower costs.

While Masters are always responsible for making the decision to divert or evacuate a crewmember, remote specialist medical teams and services can give excellent recommendations and provide input in an area outside his expertise, thus allowing him to weigh the risks and take appropriate decisions in the best interests of the patient, the ship and other commercial interests.



Industry Snapshots

Green cars from green factory on green ship: The ‘Auriga Leader’ has made its maiden voyage from Kobe, Japan to California’s Port of Long Beach; the car carrier carried a consignment of Prius, the premium Toyota hybrid cars. The car carrier was launched last December and is the first large ship in the world to partly use solar energy for power. Researched jointly by Nippon Yusen and Nippon Oil, the Leader has 328 solar panels that produce 40 kilowatts of power. Although this is less than half percent of her energy requirements for propulsion and about 7% of her auxillary needs, it is a huge first step for the industry, as the Leader is a large ship with a 6400 car capacity. The solar panels cost $1.68 million to develop and install. The Prius cars the ship will carry on her regular run to the US are green and have solar rooftop panels. Not just that, they are produced in a solar powered factory in Tsutsumi, Japan.

Larsen & Toubro enters shipyard and port development. A report in the Business Line says that a joint venture will see a 300,000 dwt capacity shipyard and integrated port facility developed by L&T in Tamil Nadu in cooperation with the Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation. Another JV with Tata Steel plans to set up a Rs 24.6 billion all weather port in Orissa, and will be on the ‘build, own, operate, share and transfer’ model.

Cruise Control: The cruise industry is going ahead with plans to launch new ships despite the recession, media reports say. With 13 million customers last year, the maritime leisure companies think that additional capacity now in the pipeline will be absorbed quite easily; presently approximately 200 of these passenger ships worldwide carry about 200,000 passengers. The biggest of the new ships is Royal Caribbean's ‘Oasis of the Seas’, which will carry a mind boggling 5,400 passengers and will be 40 percent bigger than her nearest rival. It will have several unusual features, including “neighbourhoods” and an aqua theatre for swimming and diving performances. Carnival Cruise Lines’ “Carnival Dream”, to be launched this year, will have a nine deck high atrium and an aquatic theme park. Celebrity Cruises ‘Celebrity Solstice’, Holland America’s “The Retreat” and Norwegian Cruise Lines’ “The Epic” are some other cruise ships that promise extraordinary themed experiences soon. In addition, in a first, youngsters as young as three are being targeted as potential customers, with yoga programmes for kids, games and other fun activities on offer.

Dolphin’s Jafrabad shipyard seeks partner for its 400 crore Gujarat project. Spread over 100 hectares, the shipyard will concentrate on building vessels for the offshore industry, including MPV’s, AHTS and supply vessels. Joint MD Satpal Singh says that surveys and clearance applications are complete and that the Gujarat Maritime board should give Dolphin possession of land soon. The project will take six years to complete. The first phase will see a slipway, machinery shops, offices and a fabrication yard being constructed, at a cost of 70 crores.

Drewry says officer shortfall to hit 83,900 by 2012 unless steps taken. Present shortfall, according to the well known shipping consultants, is at around 34,000. Drewry says that India could get a larger chunk of the share of this provided it sorted out some problems that plague the industry. Analysts say that delay in getting CDCs issued by the Directorate General of Shipping (DG Shipping) and the quality of available seafarers are two big problems at present; it takes at least six months to get a CDC presently, and many point to the centralisation of the process at Mumbai as the reason this is so slow. They point out, additionally, that quality of training needs to improve and the government needs to actively support maritime education in the country.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Industry Snapshots

Shipping Minister promises port upgrade. Mr. G. K. Vasan, Union Minister for Shipping, told the Lok Sabha in a written reply that the Government had readied plans to upgrade the infrastructure of ports and bring them up to international standards. The National Maritime Development Programme (NMDP), under which these programmes fall, has been now formulated by the Ministry of Shipping “with the objective to upgrade and modernise port infrastructure in India to enable it to benchmark its performance against global standards.” Two hundred and seventy six projects in the Major Ports have been identified that will be implemented in the stage up to 2012. These will include deepening of channels, rail/road connectivity, improvement in equipment, new construction or upgradation of berths, modernisation schemes and the creation of back up facilities.

Maritime companies holding on to skilled staff in testing times, fearing shortage of skilled personnel when the recession ends. The biennial Maritime Manpower Singapore 2009 conference was told that key personnel are being sent for retraining rather than retrenchment in a bid to keep them on the rolls. 'As late as mid last year, we were screaming for people. The worst is to retrench people only to find a shortage of manpower when demand comes back,' Singapore Shipping Association (SSA) president Teo Siong Seng says. Industry fears that a rebound would see companies hamstrung in the absence of qualified seafarers to man ships. Even after the present downturn, the ‘shortage’ theme persists; the ITF predicts a shortfall of almost 88000 seafarers worldwide by 2012.

Analysts predict BALDRY below 3000 in the third quarter,
the recent rally in the Baltic Dry Index notwithstanding. A survey of a group of analysts and traders shows that the cost of transporting bulk cargo is expected to fall on the back of decreased Chinese demand. Speculation is another reason, some say. Chinese traders and small steel mills are importing more iron ore than ports and stockyards and so demand may not be sustained, according to Nigel Prentis at HSBC Shipping Services in London.

Cruise ship leaks oil at UNESCO World Heritage listed Geiranger fjord, say Norwegian police. Police representative Magne Toennoey says authorities have managed to contain the large amount of oil and will pump it out. Clearly visible from land, the oil leaked from the Bahamas registered cruise ship “Spirit of Adventure” in one of Norway’s most popular tourist belts in the South, besides being a UN protected site since 2005.

Billions of pounds lost annually because of spread of invasive species through ships ballast tanks, conservationists say. Some of the creatures that have involuntarily migrated include the Chinese mitten crab that is increasing in UK’s rivers including the Thames in London. The World Wildlife Fund reports that about 7,000 marine and coastal species are transported annually, invading new areas and upsetting the ecological balance. The WWF estimates that “in the last five years, invasive species have cost fisheries, aquaculture, industrial infrastructure, harbours and other marine businesses some £31bn worldwide”. As much as eighty four percent of the world’s seas have invasive species in them; shipping is a major reason for this migration. Conservation groups have resumed calling for urgent ratification of the Ballast Water Convention, in limbo since 2004.

First women seafarer hostage in Somalia Aysun Akbay, the 24 year old fourth officer of the Turkish flagged Horizon 1, now has the unpleasant distinction of becoming the first woman mariner to be taken hostage by Somali pirates. Her ship, the Horizon 1, was taken on July 8; Aysun is a graduate of the Karadeniz Technical University's maritime training program. Her parents have asked the Turkish authorities to intervene and ensure she is released unharmed. The Horizon 1 was taken in the Gulf of Aden in the early morning hours of July 8, the intrepid pirates boarding the vessel from speedboats in strong monsoon winds. Unconfirmed reports from Ecoterra, an NGO in Somalia, say that two hijackers were injured after they were fired on by an Indian naval vessel during the attack.

Chinese registered ship “Asian Forest’ sinks off Mangalore Coast sparking off fears of an oil spill. All the 18 crewmembers of the ship were rescued by the Indian Coast Guard ship ICGS Sankalp. The ship was carrying 366 tonnes of fuel oil and 45 tonnes of diesel at the time of the accident. The Coast Guard Karnataka Commandant P.S. Jha told Deccan Herald that the Owners, P & G Marine Company of Busan, have been asked to make arrangements for salvage operations and removal of oil from the wreckage. The exact cause of the sinking is subject to investigation, but the vessel seems to have had technical difficulties in heavy monsoon weather after sailing out of New Mangalore last Friday, after which she sent a distress message.



Friday, 17 July 2009

Industry Snapshots

The Plastiki adventure David de Rothschild, a crew of scientists and others plan to sail 12,000 nautical miles across the Pacific in a boat made out of plastic bottles and other recycled waste products. Named after Thor Heyerdal's Kon Tiki expedition of 1947, the Plastiki expedition is aimed at promoting recycling and environmental issues and, in their own words, “captivate, inspire and activate tomorrow's environmental thinkers and doers to take positive action for our Planet. We hope to inspire people to rethink waste as a valuable resource. One person's waste could be another person's treasure.” The voyage will take the intrepid crew through some of the ecologically challenged areas of the world and then on to Line Islands and Tuvalu. The 60 foot catamaran is being readied in San Francisco for the launch and is behind schedule; it was supposed to be well underway in summer. De Rothschild says, “Waste is fundamentally a design flaw. We wanted to design a vessel that would epitomise waste being used as a resource." It is doubtful, however, that plastic bottles will replace steel for ship construction anytime soon.

Sixteen Indians feared dead after capsize in storm off the coast of Qatar. Their boat ‘Damas Victory’ sank just two miles off Doha last week, Indian embassy officials said. Five Indians were rescued. The boat, belonging to the Dubai based company Demas Marine, had a total complement of 35, and was ferrying workers and material to an oil rig. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the AHTS vessel has now been raised from the deep, and that officials have given up hope of any other survivors. Most of the crew were asleep when the storm hit. A spokesman said the "work vessel" was used to provide "support services" to the petroleum industry.

Indian dhow hijacked with 16 crew by Somali pirates. Reports at the time of writing are sketchy, but media reports quote East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme coordinator Andrew Mwangura confirming that the dhow was seized last Friday as it left the Somali north coast port of Bossaso bound for the UAE. All the crew on board are Indians. Mr. Mwangura believes that the hijack may be the result of a business deal gone sour; the dhow is on a regular run between Saudi Arabia and the African coast. These, and other incidents, confirm that the monsoon winds have not resulted in major reduction in pirate attacks in the region so far, as was earlier hoped. About 10 ships and 200 crewmembers are still held hostage by Somali pirates. In a separate report titled ‘Global piracy, the hidden side’, AP confirms that many attacks remain unreported, as owners are more concerned about
“Clean records, costly delays in the event of an investigation in the nearest port, jittery clients who might take business elsewhere and the likelihood of higher insurance rates if they log an attack with authorities.” IMB’s Choong estimates that more than fifty percent of such attacks go unreported, but other experts say that the figure is even higher.

Europeans look at fatigue, again. A new two and a half year long research project has been launched to examine seafarer fatigue. The European Commission funded ‘Project Horizon’ will involve 60 deck and engineer officers who will perform typical watchkeeping duties on simulators over a succession of seven day periods while being monitored by experts belonging to 11 academic institutions and organisations with shipping interests. Included amongst these are Southampton University in the UK, Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, the Stress Research Institute from Stockholm University, Bureau Veritas, the European Community Shipowners’ Associations, the European Transport Workers’ Federation, the European Harbour Masters Committee, the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners, the Standard P&I Club, the Marine Accident Investigation Branch, and the Maritime & Coastguard Agency. The project “seeks to improve safety at sea by developing a fatigue management toolkit for the industry, as well as recommendations for improving work patterns at sea”. The cost? €3.78million. “That is a lot of money, and could be better utilised to increase safe manning requirements so that the officers would not be need the toolkit in the first place,” quips a local wag.



Ice Class: Regulating shipping on top of the world.

As rapidly thinning ice and increasing resource mining opens up hitherto frozen arctic sea routes, new developments emphasise the need for the shipping industry to begin to examine the ramifications of some unprecedented possibilities and events. The inevitable use of these new shipping lanes will mandate changes to a slew of industry practices, including in areas of ship design and construction, antipollution measures, environmental protection initiatives and regulation, and will have far reaching consequences on an industry that will undoubtedly push to use these new routes to shorten sailings and slash bunker costs. This, coupled with the exploitation of natural resources in the Arctic, threatens the local environment in a myriad of ways, with the added concern that a degradation of the Arctic region would have catastrophic consequences for the planet as a whole.

The Arctic covers a sixth of the earth’s landmass. It stretches over 30 million square kilometers, and is a region of vast natural resources and a very clean environment compared with most areas of the world. Realising this, the Arctic Council was established after the Ottawa Declaration of 1996: an intergovernmental forum of States with a direct presence in the region, it aims to ‘provide a means for promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States’. The Council was mandated to particularly manage issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic. Member States of the Arctic Council are Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States of America.

A recent Reuters report in the New York Times highlights how sensitive the region really is, and has given rise to fresh concerns about sustainability of the Arctic. It quotes an earlier report by the Arctic Council nations; called The Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment, the document will serve as a formal precursor to environmental and other policies that these countries will undoubtedly pursue. In fact, the IMO is said to be poised to adopt a resolution that will throw its weight further behind the Arctic Council and perhaps mandate harmonised requirements and guidelines for commercial shipping.

Amongst other suggestions, the study recommends, “Arctic nations reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants from ships, work to lower the risk of oil spills, and consider setting aside special areas of the Arctic Ocean for environmental protection”.

The consequences of Arctic warming are expected to be further exaggerated with much increased shipping activity. Existing wildlife will be threatened with the introduction of new invasive species. Oil spills will have a much greater impact in this relatively pristine region.

More particular areas of concern include the fact that whales in the Bering Strait would be disturbed by the expected increase in shipping, with unknown consequences on their migration and numbers. Seabirds and polar bear and seal pups are particularly sensitive to oil and “can quickly die of hypothermia if it gets into their feathers or fur”, according to the report. Whales, walruses and seals are especially vulnerable as they struggle for food and to communicate with each other in noisy waters. The impact of increased air pollution is similar; the impact of an accident involving accidental release of dangerous cargo and oil would be catastrophically ruinous.

The report says that reduction in sea ice will lengthen the shipping season and disturb migratory patterns of animals. Risk of collision with whales would increase, since narrow corridors between ice shelves would be used by them as well as commercial shipping. Increased risk from invasive species is expected, either through ballast water, ship’s hulls or from cargo. “Introduction of rodent species to islands harbouring nesting seabirds, as evidenced in the Aleutian Islands, can be devastating,” says the study.

The Council fears that measures put in place so far as not enough. Moreover, many analysts believe that the consequences of commercial ships sailing through this frozen region that has major fisheries within it remain unfathomable to an extent; we simply do not have enough data to be sure of how this complex ecosystem would react to a disturbance. The Arctic States are also worried that with increased mining, gas leasing and other commercial activity, damage to the Arctic could be sudden and irreversible. Rules and guidelines for shipbuilders vary and are largely voluntary, they point out.

Speaking on the release of the report that he chaired, Lawson Brigham, a University of Alaska Fairbanks professor and retired Coast Guard captain, implied that action needed to be taken soon. “It’s not a question of whether the maritime industry is coming to the Arctic,” he said. “It has already come”.



Friday, 3 July 2009

Industry Snapshots

New Zealand prisoners to be housed in shipping containers, reports the NZ Herald. The development comes as a row develops over privatising prisons in the country, causing plans to double bunk prisoners in jails to be stalemated. About a thousand prisoners were to be double bunked, but a prison officer’s Union has opposed the move, saying it wants the government to halt its privatisation plans first. The cost of converting shipping containers as cells in existing prisons is about $53,000 to $63,000 per bed; a new prison would cost $372,000 per bed.

Visakhapatnam Container Terminal Pvt Ltd to cross one lakh TEU mark soon, says Capt Sriram Ravi Chander, Chief Operating Officer. VCTPL handled 90,000 TEU in the last financial year, he said at a press conference, adding that it would cross the one lakh mark this fiscal year. Capt. Chander expressed satisfaction at the 25% growth rate experienced “in spite of the economic recession”. The six year old terminal is a JV between DP World and United Liner Agencies Pvt Ltd. The COO expects the terminal to touch the half million TEU mark in three years or so and “from then on there will be no looking back”.

Two billion dollars may be invested in the Indian maritime and logistics sector by Venture Capitalists and Private Equity, reports Siliconindia; Assocham and Deloitte quote this figure in a joint paper presented last week. Titled, “Indian Venture Capital, A Future Scenario’, the report says that private equity participation in sectors like Education and Film Production is also slated to rise as VC’s look beyond IT for investment. Siliconindia says, “VCs are expected to invest more than $2 billion in India's maritime infrastructure and logistics as it strengthens cargo handling facilities to meet rising demand for exports and imports.” The National Maritime Development Programme hopes to attract almost 64% of the investment required for upgrading the maritime sector through this route. VC’s are also analysing possible participation in downstream businesses, including warehousing and container freight stations.

Is the Vizhinjam mega project in trouble? Perhaps, according to the Economic Times, which says that unconfirmed reports suggest that Lanco Kondapalli power may be now opting out of the project, much to the dismay of the Kerala government. LKP was the winner of the original bid; Vizhinjam International Seaport Ltd (VISL) officials indicated to the paper off the record that Lanco has sent a letter to VISL in this regard. The 5300 crore public/private partnership Vizhinjam project has been plagued with delays and some controversy, with bidders Zoom Developers of Mumbai having gone to court contesting the Lanco award. The Supreme Court had directed the State government to relook at Zoom’s original bid; this evaluation is in progress. Meanwhile, Zoom CEO Thampy has threatened to go back to the courts if the company’s bid is rejected again. The mega project is envisaged to generate 5000 direct and 1.5 lakh indirect jobs; officials in the State Government say that if Zoom’s re evaluation is shot down this time and Lanco opts out, the whole bidding process will have to be restarted from the beginning at considerable time and opportunity cost.