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Why big data analysis is key to preventing future grounding accidents

Photo: NAPA TeemuManderbacka.jpg
Teemu Manderbacka, Lead R&D Engineer, NAPA Shipping Solutions
Vessel groundings and collisions remain one of the most common causes of accidents in the passenger sector, with significant groundings recently reaching national headlines around the world.

In fact, the Japan Transport Safety Board found collisions and groundings to be the most prevalent cause of accidents for all vessel types, accounting for 62% of accidents during 2020, alongside other contact accidents as of 30 November 2020.

These statistics are not revolutionary or out of sync with past records – with accident records in the Baltic Sea showing that collisions and groundings were the most common cause of accident during 2014 – 2017 – collisions accounting for 32% and groundings 25%. Despite the frequency of groundings and collisions out at sea, the cause often remains disputed and is, on occasion, unknown.

However, the digitalisation of the shipping industry is unlocking fresh opportunity and new tools for us to better mitigate, monitor and avoid such accidents happening again. More specifically, the continuous advancement in shipping’s databases, and greater understanding of big data analysis, will enable us to design safer vessels, optimise voyage routes and understand past incidents to prevent future accidents.  

Improving passenger ship safety on FLARE

At NAPA we are involved in advancing the application of data to prevent future vessel groundings. For example, we are currently working in partnership with industry leaders on the European Commission-funded FLARE project, which aims to improve passenger ship safety by enabling vital research into flooding accident response.

Our team is currently leading the flooding risk mitigation research, using measurements and predictions of progressive flooding to enhance the provision of vulnerability monitoring and survivability assessments.

From this research, our team has not only increased understanding of situational awareness in the case of flooding but been able to apply this to mitigate vessel grounding. For example, by combining the simulation capabilities of NAPA Emergency Computer with big data analysis, we have been able to collaborate with those on the FLARE project to create a unique model that will enable crew and shore-side operators to better assess and manage the risks of grounding in real-time.

Furthermore, when applying the big data analytics methodology created in the project, to analyse the grounding avoidance behaviour of a selected ropax ship in the Gulf of Finland, we were able to identify the crucial stages leading up to potential vessel grounding and determine subsequent flooding risk.

It was concluded that the strategic application of such methodology to shipping’s global fleet would provide an invaluable system to inform crew, and shore side teams, of the navigational complexities and vulnerability of a vessel.

Following the completion of the FLARE project, we believe this vital research will play a key role in improving maritime safety standards and culture. The implementation of such research will enable better ship-shore communication; the real-time data analysis and increased automation not only reducing the risk of human error but identifying problems before the risk is unavoidable.

Making waves with new software

In addition to contributing to vital industry research on the FLARE project, we have also recently partnered with MOL and ClassNK to develop a new software to intelligently monitor and mitigate grounding risks for all vessel types.

The software will be based on our ship performance monitoring and voyage planning software, NAPA Fleet Intelligence, and will further combine position data, sea depth and weather data, alongside navigational charts to provide users with a robust and accurate platform to better monitor their fleet. With reliable and intelligent ship-shore connectivity a vital element in ensuring safety at sea, the software will also provide alerts in the case that a vessel deviates from a safe route or from a reference route.

Following the verification of the proof-of-concept by MOL in the testing phase, the commercialisation of the software would provide a sophisticated and highly applicable solution to reduce grounding accidents and collisions. The application of big data enabling us to unlock untapped automatic voyage optimisation potential to provide weather and risk updates based on a wealth of real-life data and changing circumstance.

The continuous development of an all-encompassing data driven solution, deployed across large fleets, and combining factors like weather, grounding risk, ship stability, fuel efficiency and cargo operations, would allow for greater holistic decision making. The model providing crew with a means to take action to mitigate the risk by reducing vulnerability in high-risk areas, whilst at the same time informing operation centres on the vessel operations and subsequent risks.

Research and collaboration will drive up safety standards

To improve safety standards across the shipping industry, it must be recognised where improvements need to be made.

A research driven and collaborative approach, coupled with the application of big data, will contribute to ensuring we reduce the prevalence of future vessel groundings and collisions.

With critical progress already made on relatively new projects, such as the development of our new vessel grounding risk monitoring software and ground breaking methodology on the FLARE project, we see the next few years as vital in the development of further models to monitor and avoid accidents. The sensational global headlines are set to soon become a relic of the past.

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