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Maritime industry responds to Covid-19 with faster uptake of remote inspections

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Chen Kit Jam, assistant director at MPA
The use of remote operations is not new to the maritime industry, but they will be adopted at a much faster pace in light of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, according to panellists at the 2020 Singapore Registry of Ships (SRS) Forum Webinar held on Tuesday.

During this period of time, appropriate execution of remote surveys and inspections is considered to be a form of “rapid adaptation” to the pandemic, so as to ensure that mandatory certifications of vessels remain valid, according to Chen Kit Jam, assistant director (flag state control department) at Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA).

Opting for remote inspection as opposed to on-site inspection is also beneficial in terms of minimising exposure of Covid-19 to seafarers whilst still maintaining operational obligations, Chen said.

“The selection of ships for remote inspections is based on vessels tagged for priority inspection, vessels with no previous inspection records, and vessels not inspected in the last one year,” Chen told the webinar.

Koh Shu Yong, head (commercial and innovation) at Bureau Veritas (BV), recapped that the classification society had conducted a first remote survey for a tug boat, and completed a trial remote survey on newbuilding construction in collaboration with Sembcorp Marine and Nokia.

In June, PSA Marine and BV jointly conducted a first annual remote survey for an LNG dual-fuel harbour tug in Singapore, without a surveyor physically present onboard the boat.

In August, the trio of BV, Sembmarine and Nokia completed a test-bedded remote survey on a newbuild vessel construction at Sembmarine’s Singapore shipyard, checking the integrity of hull components and inspecting the sub-assembly block.

“BV has developed proven tools required for remote operations and they are already in use,” Koh said, adding that Covid-19, in a big way, has accelerated the use of remote surveying.

Koh added that five key elements are necessary for remote operations to be conducted smoothly, namely connectivity, hardware, software, integration and support, and the people involved.

To support increasing activities in remote surveys globally, BV most recently opened a new center in Singapore in July and another Rotterdam center in March this year, bringing its number of centers worldwide to nine.

Looking ahead, Chen said the MPA and its partners will continue to improve the remote inspection experience for operators and crew, enhance remote inspection techniques, and extend remote Flag State Control (FSC) inspections to Singapore Registry of Ships (SRS) that do not call at Singapore port.

Since June this year, MPA has ramped up remote inspections. To-date, MPA's surveyors have conducted 128 remote Flag State and Port State inspections involving 74 companies.

Cheah Aun Aun, deputy director of shipping at MPA, shared that with the number of on-site inspections reduced over the course of this year, SRS has been able to utilise and refine remote inspection techniques. SRS is the fifth largest ship registry in the world with a fleet of 4,331 ships on its register, aggregating over 96m gross tonnes.

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