October was a busy month and as the summer drew to a close, regulatory news took centre stage with the MLC, energy efficiency and Ballast Water Management on owner’s minds, not to mention a renewed terror threat. A credible back up to GPS finally took to the airwaves, some more next generation communications began roll-out and a larger than life character left the stage.

eLoran live in English Channel and North Sea

The long-promised navigation positioning back-up, eLoran has gone live, using long wave radio signals one million times more powerful than GPS to provide coverage across the English Channel and the North Sea.

The system, which uses seven land-based monitoring stations from Dover to Aberdeen, was developed by the UK’s General Lighthouse Authority to provide a failover to GPS which suffers from weak signals and is susceptible to interference from weather and jamming.

Ships fitted with eLoran receivers can automatically switch over when GPS signals are lost, enabling them to continue to receive position and timing information.

The UK is the first country in the world to deploy eLoran with rollout initially approved by the UK Department of Transport in 2013, while other countries, notably the US has previously said that it would close its older Loran stations rather than upgrade to eLoran, believing that GPS provided a service of sufficient quality.

MLC prompts rise in operating costs

Accountant and consultancy firm Moore Stephens has predicted that operating costs will continue to rise with a further 3% being added to shipowner’s bills in 2014 and 2015, due in part to the implementation of the Maritime Labour Convention.

Based on a survey of owners and operators in Europe and Asia, Moore Stephens found that crew wages, repairs and maintenance costs were most likely to increase. Crew wages are expected to increase by 2.4% in 2014 and by 2.6% in 2015, with other crew costs thought likely to go up by 1.9% and 2.1%.

The cost of repairs and maintenance is expected to grow by 2.3% this year and by 2.4% in 2015. Further increases include P&I and hull and machinery insurance premiums, dry-docking costs and spares.

Shipmanagement fees are predicted to show the lowest level of increases but respondents to the survey indicated that the high level of demand for trained crew to man more technical ships would continue.

One respondent indicated that the full implementation of the MLC 2006 was ‘likely to be a significant factor in higher labour and crewing costs’.

Shipping at terror risk again?

Maritime choke points are once again at risk from terrorist attack, as terror groups including Al-Qaeda renew their activity to take advantage of instability in the Middle East.

Tanker owners and operators should increase levels of security to counter the threat of an increasingly likely terrorist attack, maritime security company MAST has warned.

Al-Qaeda used its English-language digital propaganda magazine Resurgence to suggest that it could execute strategic attacks on oil shipment choke points at a time when the west is preoccupied with the civil wars in Syria and Iraq.

Gerry Northwood of private security firm MAST said terrorist groups were ‘on the front foot’ and had ‘potential to do real harm to maritime activity in the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean [and] the Straits of Gibraltar and Hormuz, the Suez Canal or the Bab El Mendeb Strait.”

Northwood added that in the event of an attack, “all crew members are at risk, particularly those onboard vessels with hazardous cargoes. It is vital to have well worked up security procedures in place and to maintain heightened levels of alertness at all times.”

Green groups call for data transparency

Shipping NGOs Transport & Environment, Seas at Risk and Carbon War Room have teamed up to call on the International Maritime Organization to make data on ship efficiency freely available, in an effort to promote a cleaner maritime industry.

The three groups say the IMO plans to restrict access to the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) data on newly-built ships in a move that could negatively impact efforts to reduce emissions.

The NGOs say transparency is essential if the industry is to successfully move towards a low-carbon future and bring down the costs of compliance. Clean Shipping Coalition members Transport & Environment and Seas at Risk cited a study carried out by the University of Gothenburg that found that “social and market pressure resulting from information disclosure can generate strong incentives for pollution control in a way that traditional enforcement tools may not be able to achieve.”

But shipowners and operators are thought to be blocking the release of the data which they believe to be commercially sensitive.

The groups claim the publication of efficiency data has led to average annual improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency of 4% in the European car industry as well as in the US aviation industry, where quarterly data on fuel consumption has been published since 1958.

Ballast water reprieve, progress too

The 67th meeting of the Marine Environment Protection Committee of the IMO agreed several measures to lend support to the Ballast Water Management Convention, which has failed to enter into force almost a decade after its adoption.

Measures to help accelerate the convention’s entry into force and implementation were adopted, with resolutions addressing issues surrounding type-approval and guidance for port state control inspections. These aimed to address industry concerns over consistent means for equipment approval, so that any systems approved will meet the required standards.

As a result the so-called G8 guidelines covering technical standards and approval testing procedures will undergo a comprehensive review. But early adopters that have already installed type-approved ballast water management systems will not be penalised and port states should not apply criminal sanctions, or detain ships, based on sampling during a trial period. New guidelines for port state control inspection were also adopted with the aim of minimising undue delays to a ship during inspection and sampling procedures.

Coles goes but GX Intellian tests impress

In a month which saw the surprise departure of its colourful president of Maritime, Frank Coles, there was better news for Inmarsat from the first tests on Intellian’s GX60 and GX100 VSAT terminals designed for the Global Xpress service.

It wasn’t quite the ‘100mb per second to a terminal the size of an iPad’ that chairman Andy Sukawaty had promised when Inmarsat announced GX, but the first maritime test reported a download speed of 24 Mbps and an upload speed of 4 Mbps. The majority of maritime communications can still be measured in kilobits per second.

The tests took place on board the container ship Hyundai Bangkok, which travelled from Busan to Hong Kong and included the delivery of video from the ship to Hamburg, Germany.

The Intellian terminals enable automatic satellite and beam switching when crossing from one satellite coverage region to another and also support a low elevation angle that it says will bring reliable connectivity even at high latitudes.

Cruise company goes hybrid

Carnival Cruise Lines is the latest operator to upgrade its communications offering with the launch of a new hybrid mix of technologies that will offer speeds 10 times faster than satellite-based connections.

Carnival introduced its new WiFi@Sea service which merges a variety of signals including satellite, long-range Wi-Max and port Wi-Fi, following 18 months of tests, and plans to roll it out across the company’s nine cruise brands and 101 ships. The company claims speeds will be comparable to those found in land-based restaurants and bars that offer Wi-Fi access.

A high quality internet connection is becoming an ever more important part of a positive cruise experience according to Carnival CIO Ramon Millan with the number of people who want to be connected increasing every year.

As more and more passengers begin using the service, Carnival expects the availability of fast connections to have a positive impact on onboard spending. Great Circle also understands that rival cruise brand Royal Caribbean is set to unveil its new high speed internet service based on a constellation of ‘medium earth orbiting’ satellites operated by O3B.