The SmartShip concept aims to digitise shipping: Synergy Group

V Sajeev Kumar Kochi | Updated on September 27, 2019 Published on September 27, 2019

The IoT platform allows onboard operation of multiple systems with varying degrees of autonomy: Synergy Group CEO Unni

SmartShip is the new buzz word in the shipping industry. Chennai-based Synergy Group — leading ship managers with a fleet of 265 vessels and employing 10,000 seafarers — is on a voyage to transform the fragmented shipping industry with new technological innovations. Captain Rajesh Unni, Founder and CEO, Synergy Group, believes that the new concept is expected to redesign the industry with the right skills for people to meet the future needs of shipping. Excerpts:

Can you elaborate on the SmartShip concept and how India has progressed in this?

The idea of SmartShip is about digitalisation of shipping. Technology is changing all round and the same is now happening in shipping and ship management. There are substantial gains as a result of adopting the idea of SmartShip.

We, as a ship management company, help address this. Apart from being the CEO and Founder of Synergy Group, I am also the co-founder of Alpha Ori Technologies (AOT) in Chennai. AOT helps the maritime sector embark on the digitalisation journey.

It is doing so via SmartShip, an Internet of Things (IoT) platform that enables on-board operation of multiple systems with varying degrees of autonomy. It is truly a game-changer.

AOT has already set up 35 SmartShips and has another 60 in the pipeline.

The makeover to SmartShip provides clear, tangible financial and environmental gains in terms of fuel and predictive maintenance savings, increased safety and compliance and enhanced asset utilisation.

Europe, Japan, China and Korea have been giving great impetus for a digitalised maritime transport ecosystem. Indian maritime companies deal with other important challenges and obviously this has not been given the due attention it deserves.

Will the transformation to smart ships affect the job opportunities of seafarers?

The SmartShip platform is proving very successful and AOT is employing more programmers, developers and implementers in India. In the next decade, I believe the core skills of seafarers — good seamanship and independent problem solving and resilience — will remain the same.

However, the change in technology will need people on board to have appropriate skillsets as the industry transforms from analogue, disjointed systems to smart digital enterprises.

Hence, it will be crucial for our educational institutions to redesign their curriculum.

Given India’s position in the maritime workforce, it is extremely important to reinvest in our institutions to help budding seafarers face the challenge of a new maritime ecosystem.

The global demand for seafarers is estimated at 1,545,000, with the industry requiring 790,500 officers and 754,500 ratings.

This indicates that the demand for officers has increased by around 24.1 per cent, while the demand for ratings has increased by around 1.0 per cent.

The current demand-supply situation highlights a shortage of approximately 16,500 officers and a surplus of around 119,000 ratings.

China, Philippines, Indonesia, India, and the Russian Federation are the top five suppliers of seafarers (officers and ratings). Indian seafarers constitute 10 per cent of the global maritime workforce.

What is the cost involved in the conversion of smart ships? Can companies afford to meet the expenses at the time of an industry downturn?

The cost of installation of SmartShip varies from vessel to vessel.

It is easier to install the SmartShip platform on a new ship than it is to make an older vessel ‘smart’.

But for shipowners, it is not really a case of waiting for the perfect time to invest. The annual savings of fuel and maintenance cost, and enhanced regulatory compliance and operational performance are in the range of $150,000 per ship per year.

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Published on September 27, 2019
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