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September 4, 2014

Voyager News

The news in August

We’ve been scanning the airwaves and the newswires over the summer to bring you the latest news from the worlds of technology and communications. From the northern extremes to earth’s orbit, there have been successes and setbacks and it seems the ability to prepare for the risks of modern shipping depends on your perspective.

Higher temperatures see NSR open early

Higher temperatures in the Arctic saw an early opening to the Northern Sea Route shipping season, which began on 21 August, two weeks earlier than last year. However, at the end of August,  large areas of sea ice still remained in the north-western passage along the Canadian coast  Weathernews Global Ice Center reported.

The NSR has used by vessels escorted by Russian icebreakers since late June. However, enough ice has melted north of Novosibirsk to allow vessels to pass through the region with minimal risk of collision from now until early October, according to Weathernews GIC.

Traffic through the NSR has steadily increased season by season as more ice-breaker assisted and ice class transits are made, mostly through the eastern NSR on the Russian side.  However growing interest in Polar navigation can be seen from the addition last year of advisories on the Northwest Passage through Canadian Arctic waters in addition to NSR advisories.

Arctic risks subject to ‘seasonal and geographic’ variances

Class Society DNV GL has developed an interactive Arctic Risk Map to display the risks associated with offshore and maritime activities in the region. It said the map was designed to provide users with a comprehensive tool for decision-making and communications.

DNV GL says that far from being a monolithic area, the Arctic risk picture varies considerably and any operator needs a sound decision basis to consider the risks of Arctic activity and transportation.

The map includes the seasonal distribution of ice, physical environmental conditions, sea-ice concentrations, shipping traffic and oil and gas resources as well as a safety and operability index, showing the variability of factors that impact the risk level depending on season and location.

Seasonal and locational risk varies greatly between regions and the consequences of an accident in the Arctic would likely be more severe in some areas than others, thus the map is a useful tool for identifying where require special attention is required for planning and mitigation measures

The robots are coming (sort of)

Cruise operator Royal Caribbean International has announced the first robot crew for its ship Quantum of the Seas but says the automatons will only be mixing drinks.

Among a host of high-tech systems installed aboard the ship, which begins sailing in November, will be a pair of robot mixologists. Guests can submit their orders to the bar via tablet PCs and watch the bionic bartenders mix their cocktails.

The robots are just one of a host of new technology developments on Quantum of the Seas, which will also offer guests a ‘sidewalk to ship’ check-in process in just 10 minutes via an online boarding service.

Luggage will be tagged with Radio Frequency Identification technology at drop-off and guests can track their luggage in real time on their smartphones en route to their room. Guests will also be issued with RFID-enabled wristbands, which will act as their room key and allow them to navigate the ship or make on board purchases.

The services will be delivered in part via the super high speed connectivity over the recently-launched O3b Ka-band network which RCI says will enable passengers to watch streaming video, check e-mail, share images on social media and enjoy face-to-face video conversations in the middle of the ocean.

IMB catches up on cyber-crime

Piracy watchdog the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has warned shipping of the increasing threat to shipping from cyber-attacks, suggesting that the sector could become the next playground for hackers. As already highlighted on the Great Circle blog, experts are queuing up to tell the industry it is under-prepared for attacks along the supply chain.

A statement on the IMB website said “recent events have shown that systems managing the movement of goods need to be strengthened against the threat of cyber-attacks. It is vital that lessons learnt from other industrial sectors are applied quickly to close down cyber vulnerabilities in shipping and the supply chain.”

The IMB said criminals were targeting carriers, ports, terminals and other transport operators and as the sophistication of IT systems used in shipping continued to grow, vulnerability had increased.

The statement referenced a speech given by Mike Yarwood of specialist insurer TT Club at the TOC Container Supply Chain Europe conference in London, where he said; “We see incidents which at first appear to be a petty break-in at office facilities. The damage appears minimal – nothing is physically removed. More thorough post incident investigations however reveal that the ‘thieves’ were actually installing spyware within the operator’s IT network.”

Russia goes for gigabits

Russia has announced plans to create a powerful new satellite communication system that will provide global coverage and communication security, Russian newspaper Izvestia has reported.

Space Daily reported that the system will require the launch of $1.8 billion worth of satellite resources according to the Russian Defense Ministry and Russian Federal Space Agency and the satellites will enable communications at throughputs up to 80 gigabits per second by 2020 and 120gbps by 2025 with simultaneous coverage for about one million high-speed terminals.

Sadly maritime users are unlikely to realise the advantages as the system, consisting of four satellites weighing up to 2.5 tons and equipped with transponders and air traffic control systems is designed for use primarily by the country’s leaders and the military, according to the newspaper.

Set back for Galileo experiment

Meanwhile the European Space Agency (ESA) was left embarrassed after the third and fourth satellites designed to provide Europe’s counterpart to the US GPS satellite navigation system failed to achieve the correct orbits.

It said the fifth and sixth satellites launched from French Guiana in August are under control and it was examining the implications of the anomaly. The satellites Doresa and Milena were launched on a Soyuz rocket and observations taken after the separation of the satellites from the rocket show a ‘gap between the orbit achieved and that which was planned,’ according to launch service provider Arianespace.

“They have been placed on a lower orbit than expected. Teams are studying the impact this could have on the satellites,” it added.

After years of delay, Galileo appeared to finally be moving towards full deployment. ESA, which is building the system on behalf of the EU, expects to have a 26-satellite constellation in orbit by 2017.

Maritime takes the cake

Satellite market research company NSR has claimed that the maritime sector is set to dominate demand for Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) capacity and will require approximately 160 satellite transponders by 2023. In a report, NSR says that this demand will in large part be driven by cruise ships, offshore platforms and merchant maritime customers.

The predicted 160 transponders of FSS capacity required in maritime will service just under a million in-service units by 2023, the report says, generating more than $5.5 billion dollars in retail revenue.

The report also notes that over the next 10 years the migration towards High-Throughput Satellite offerings will take hold across most maritime markets as growth stabilises and the focus on improving operational efficiency and regulatory compliance continues.

With larger and more sophisticated vessels under construction, NSR predicts that connectivity and communications will be a key enabler of cost and operational efficiencies and the ‘fear of missing out’ for both work and pleasure will trigger a drive to more broadband connectivity, leading vendors to expand into a potentially high-growth market for new bandwidth.


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