FleetBroadband 150 offers 24 hour connectivity on coastal vessel

This case study is a summary of the FB150 MFE conducted onboard the cargo vessel, Skagern, owned by MF Ship BV and managed by Marin Ship Management. 

A perfect complement

The Skagern is typical of the many merchant vessels that ply the coastal waters of the world, carrying goods and raw materials. Her main cargo is timber and wood pulp, which she transports between the Baltic and the ports of North-West Europe. Most of her voyages last four days or less. When the Skagern is close to shore, her Captain can use existing land-based networks for voice and data communications. However, her voyages frequently take her beyond the range of these networks, so he cannot rely on them for operational emails and other essential communications.

When the Skagern is close to shore, her Captain can use existing land-based networks for voice and data communications. However, her voyages frequently take her beyond the range of these networks, so he cannot rely on them for operational emails and other essential communications.

In a world increasingly dominated by internet-based communications and data transfer, ship management companies are looking for reliable and affordable new ways to guarantee uninterrupted data links between vessels and the shore. Their aim is to enhance operational efficiency and maximise the profitability of all commercial voyages. It was against this background, when approached by Inmarsat service provider Radio Holland, that Marin Ship Management enthusiastically agreed to an MFE of FB150 onboard the Skagern.

Cost-effective communications

For Marin Ship Management, the Inmarsat MFE was the perfect opportunity to assess the viability of using FB150 as a complement to existing communications on its small to medium-sized coastal vessels. Herman Uffen, Marin Ship Management Operations Manager, says: “Smaller vessels have tight budgets for communications, so it’s important that any new systems are cost-effective and that data usage can be tightly controlled. The MFE allowed us to look closely at FB150 in a live operational environment, and particularly at how it would complement our existing 3G usage.”

Radio Holland carried out the installation of the FB150 terminal, a Skipper 150 from Addvalue Communications Pte Ltd, Singapore, onboard the Skagern in October 2009. As with all standard FleetBroadband implementations, fitting of the lightweight antenna and below-deck unit was straightforward and completed in less than four hours.

“It all went smoothly and did not interrupt the normal operations of the vessel. Everything continued as usual.” Marcel van Veen Superintendent, Marin Ship Management

In addition to the FB150, a Virtek CommBox was installed to manage the Inmarsat connection. Previously used successfully with FB500 and FB250 terminals, it is a powerful tool for optimising the efficiency of data connections and ensuring they are cost effective. On the Skagern, CommBox was used to: 

  • Switch automatically between 3G and FleetBroadband connections This ensured that no voice or data connections were lost and that the most cost-effective communications link was used at all times.
  • Control costs The CommBox has powerful data compression capabilities, which Virtek says will compress transferred data files by up to 90 percent. Roger Negård, Key Account Manager at Virtek, says: “This represents a significant cost saving when using a FleetBroadband connection for a vessel like the Skagern. The CommBox can be configured to filter any unwanted traffic over FB150, such as video or music downloads, and to create a local cache of commonly used web pages. These features also help users to control costs.”
  • To act as a relay server for email sent by the Captain and other users from Microsoft Outlook This is a cost-effective way to send emails over FB150, because they are compressed by CommBox before transmission. User feedback on this feature during the MFE was excellent.

More efficient operations

FB150 gave the Skagern a guaranteed data and voice connection 24 hours a day. For the first time, this enabled the Captain and Marin Ship Management, to experience the operational benefits of uninterrupted communications with shore.

“With FleetBroadband we have a continual connection at sea or in port. We use FleetBroadband 150 every day for position reports, for updating our weather programme and for communications with charterers and agents in the next port. Before we had it, we were always dependant on being in range of 3G, so that is a big advantage of having FleetBroadband.” Captain Emile Huizinga

FB150 gave Captain Huizinga the opportunity to experiment with the full functionality of Marin Ship Management’s E-Synergy system. This tool, from business software company Exact, is a web-based software solution that gives a real-time picture of resources and supplies across the whole company, allowing widely dispersed employees to collaborate more effectively. The system works from a central database at Marin Ship Management headquarters, which is synchronised regularly with smaller databases at its other offices and onboard its vessels.

Prior to the FB150 MFE, Captain Huizinga used an FTP service to exchange updated data files between the Skagern and the central E-Synergy database. This could only happen when the vessel was within coastal range. However, FB150 allowed him to synchronise his system quickly several times a day – at the touch of a button on his laptop. Herman Uffen, Operations Manager at Marin Ship Management Facilities Group says: “This enables the Skagern to maintain an up-to-date version of the central E-Synergy database, so it is always fully integrated with the company’s business processes. It saves a lot of traffic over the system, because previously it was necessary to exchange Excel spreadsheets and the like by email, and to make calls, to keep the vessel fully in the picture. With FB150 it can happen automatically.

Commercial advantage

Uffen says there is potential for the E-Synergy system to be used for smart provisioning of vessels such as the Skagern. With frequent updates over FB150, the ship’s office would be able to see at a glance when the vessel was running low on supplies. It could order them in advance so they would be ready for loading when she next came into port. Although this lies in the future, the FB150 immediately enabled Captain Huizinga to work smarter and faster. He says: “With FleetBroadband, we can send a purchase order at any time of day. I also have to send pre-arrival documents to the next port, which I used to do before we departed. Now FB150 allows me to do it at any time after leaving port, and I don’t have to worry about getting out of range of coverage.”

“From a chartering point of view, I can see that if there are changes in destination we can communicate them to the vessel instantly. Or, if they are getting ahead of schedule, we can tell them to slow down in order to save fuel. It is a commercial advantage for us and the ship’s owners to have this system onboard.” Marcel van Veen Superintendent, Marin Ship Management

Smarter working

Distribution partner Vizada contributed a range of added-value elements to the MFE, which helped Captain Huizinga and Marin Ship Management make more efficient and cost-effective use of the FB150 terminal. The first of these was SkyFile® Mail, Vizada’s messaging system for use over Inmarsat and other satellite systems. SkyFile® Mail gave the Skagern a convenient, flexible and cost-effective method of sending and receiving emails, e-faxes and text messages over FB150. A master SkyFile® Mail account was installed on the FB150 terminal server, and permissions set to enable the captain and two other users to access it in a ‘virtual’ environment via WiFi from their laptops. This type of configuration allows users to run simultaneous, but completely independent, SkyFile® Mail sessions. It also gives administrators a high degree of control over who accesses the programme and how they use it. For example, they can use the web-based remote configuration tool over FB150 to manage the sub-accounts, and can monitor the content of emails.Vizada also made its Satellite® Direct service available during the MFE, providing a costeffective way for Marin Ship Management to contact the Skagern. Satellite Direct makes incoming calls to the FB150 terminal cheaper by routing them through the Vizada network rather than over expensive national and international public telephone networks. Users are given a unique PIN, which they key in when they call a toll-free number at Vizada. They are then connected directly to the FB150 terminal. This feature was used extensively during the MFE by Marin Ship Management, and also by the family and friends of crew members. During the MFE, Radio Holland and Vizada used the Source and Terralink Data Manager tools, both of which were developed by Vizada, for remote configuration of the Skagern’s FB150 terminal and to monitor usage. The Source can be used to track and manage end-user accounts and perform everyday account management tasks, while Data Manager is a powerful administrative tool for controlling IP connections and the traffic they carry. “Data Manager really becomes effective under commercial implementation of FB150” says Judith Marie Villa. “If it wished, Marin could use it to limit traffic just to those applications and IP addresses it wanted the vessel and crew to use, so they would have extremely detailed control over usage. Data Manager works in real time, which would allow Marin to make changes whenever they wanted through the dedicated web portal. They could also use it to analyse how the FB150 was being used – for instance how much for email and how much for web browsing.”

Maintaining crew morale

Although the Skagern is only ever at sea for a few days at a time, Marin Ship Management recognises the crew welfare benefits of keeping in regular touch with family and friends. It took the opportunity of the MFE to test how easily crew members could use FB150 for calls, email and accessing social websites, such as Facebook. For this, Vizada provided crew members with its Universal Card, enabling them to make low-cost calls at any time, 365 days a year, via Inmarsat’s Enhanced Super Quiet Time. They could also use the prepaid card to access the internet and send emails and text messages over FB150. Incoming voice calls were routed cost-effectively via Vizada’s Satellite Direct service.

“It was my son’s birthday, so I used FB150 to wish him a Happy Birthday and he was very happy. With Inmarsat, communication is very quick, even when you are in the middle of the sea.” Melvin De la Peña Chef, Skagern

Keeping safe

For any vessel big or small, safety communication is of utmost importance. Previously, the Skagern relied on Inmarsat C and VHF radio in emergency situations, but now they have the added reassurance of being able to contact shore using FleetBroadband’s free emergency calling facility.

“If there is a problem the crew can immediately get help from shore with 505 Emergency Calling, so there are safety benefits from FB150” Marcel van Veen, Superintendent, Marin Ship Management

Chosen because of its resemblance to SOS, any 505 call from a FleetBroadband terminal will be directly routed to a Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre free of charge.

Summary of how FB150 was used on the Skagern

Operational efficiency - For the first time, FB150 gave the Skagern a reliable 24/7 connection to shore. This allowed the Captain to get chart and weather updates more quickly, to send prearrival forms and purchase orders at any time and to stay in constant touch with his shore office.

Smart switching - A Virtek CommBox was set up to control the vessel’s communications and to enable automatic switching between FB150 and shore-based 3G. In a commercial setting, this would ensure the most cost-effective communications at all times.

Integrated working - FB150 allowed Captain Huizinga to experiment with the full potential of Marin Ship Management’s E-Synergy business intelligence system. Frequent updates via Inmarsat kept the Skagern synchronised with the central database at headquarters, and ensured Marin Ship Management had a real-time view of resources and supplies onboard the vessel.

Control of costs - The MFE demonstrated that users can fine tune their FB150 terminal and connections to ensure that usage and costs are tightly controlled. Added-value hardware and systems such as Vizada’s Source, Virtek CommBox and Terralink Data Manager have an important role to play.

Crew welfare - As with FB250 and FB500, the MFE showed that FB150 represents a major step forward in providing flexible, cost-effective personal communications for mariners while at sea. Prepaid access cards make it easy for mariners to stay in touch with family and friends, via the internet or by phone, while 505 Emergency Calling ensures peace of mind.

Ideal for small to medium-sized vessels - FB150 had an immediate impact on the Skagern’s operational efficiency and on the Captain’s ability to get the best out of the vessel and his crew. The MFE also demonstrated conclusively that FB150 can provide a cost-effective and convenient complement to existing communications for coastal vessels.