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Live From SMME 2016

UAE Shipping Association breakfast on Big Data but not ready to feast

UAE Shipping Association breakfast on Big Data but not ready to feast
The maritime industry is willing, but not yet ready to fully embrace smart shipping given the current market downturn.

That was the takeaway from a business breakfast where smart shipping thought leaders shared “Big Data” intel and opportunities with a small gathering of UAE Shipping Association (UAESA) members as the 8th Seatrade Maritime Middle East (SMME) conference and exhibition opened in Dubai on Monday.

Transas ceo Frank Coles, DNV GL Maritime Advisory senior project manager Volker Bertram and Gwynne Lewis, head of digital, data and software at Lloyd’s Register, shared context around key industry buzz words of the day - including what exactly “Big Data” means and indeed how the “smart” in smart shipping could be interpreted in many different ways.  

Their audience savoured the insight but seemed unconvinced the time is right to invest in such capex hungry technology in the current economic climate, echoing the sentiments of a larger UAE Maritime Leaders’ Summit which kick-started Dubai Maritime Week on Sunday.

UAESA general secretary, Gamal Fekry, welcomed the session and agreed the march of ship to shore connectivity and all its applications and implications was inevitable but was maybe more a waltz than a foxtrot at present.  “It [smart shipping] is the only way forward, everybody has to be thinking that way,” said Fekry, who is ceo of Dubai-based Red Sea Marine Management.

“But at the present time with the downturn, it is even more challenging and I can see the initiatives will slow down if not [be] postponed till the recovery. 

“We are now talking about cutting cost and that means optimisation and consolidation. So if a smart ship solution will bring cutting down of costs, yes…but as you know any initiative will have to have an initial set up cost and that cost will be [challenging] at the present time.”

Volker talked of how Big Data was useless to shipping unless the avalanche of information was sliced and diced into something intelligible to the average seafarer. Lewis agreed all the analysis the world was no good if it did not offer real time solutions to Masters at sea.

Coles, meanwhile, said the costs of transferring data from ship to shore was a current barrier but an increase in global satellite penetration would eventually drive that outlay down. He sees shore based control centres manned by ships masters and chief engineers as the “first practical things that open up once smart technology.”

But Coles also warned of a potential downside to the technological advance, describing the threat of cyber security as a ticking time bomb.

“You know it as AIS but I call it Attack, Infiltrate, Spoof. AIS is the most vulnerable system, it is wide open. I show a video in my presentations of a spoofed vessel being driven around in circles making a word and it was done remotely. The threat is real.”

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