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THE RELATIONSHIP between seafarers and emerging maritime technologies is broadly positive, but more needs to be done to alter crew perceptions of digitalisation, new research has found.

Satellite communications company Inmarsat and maritime innovation consultancy Thetius explored the human element in maritime digitalisation in their latest publication, Seafarers in the Digital Age.

The report bases its findings on results from a survey of 200 maritime professionals including seagoing and shore-based staff from shipping companies and industry service providers.

The survey covered participants’ views on the impacts of digitalisation on their health and welfare; on training, careers and job retention; and on performance.

The report found seafarers are largely in favour of greater digitalisation, but a sizeable portion of those working at sea also fear shrinking job opportunities.

Despite a generally positive relationship between seafarers and maritime technology, responses suggest shipping companies and technology providers “have work to do” to change crew misgivings over digital transformation at sea.

Researchers highlighted the finding that one in three seafarers identified personal access to digital technology as the key factor when considering a new employer.

They said that, as an inducement, internet access ranks higher than pay for seafarers (chosen by fewer than one in four participants).

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Researchers also referred to the latest Seafarers Happiness Index survey results, which indicated crew well-being in first quarter of 2022 was at its lowest since the survey began in 2015. Limited access to basic internet connectivity was a primary cause for the results.

However, according to Thetius, Seafarers in the Digital Age captures a shipping industry responding quickly to crew connectivity needs.

In the last five years, 78% of the ship operators surveyed installed internet connectivity on board for crews’ personal use.

But the report also highlights the way seafarers see risks in the wider deployment of digital technologies, with half the seafarers surveyed expecting job opportunities to decline by 25% with five years.

“If half of our seafarers believe that traditional job opportunities at sea are disappearing, as this research suggests, more needs to be done to highlight how digitalisation will help jobs to evolve or create entirely new roles,” Thetius head of research and intelligence Matthew Kenney said.

“Digital tools and connectivity can create happier and more productive ships, while newer, better ways of working are possible.

“Instead of allowing maritime professionals to become distrustful or even fearful of digital and emerging technologies, the sector must recognise the continued importance of human capital and work hard to bring crews along on the journey.”

Inmarsat Maritime president Ben Palmer said the inclusion of mandatory internet access in the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 in May this year represents a paradigm shift for seafaring rights.

“[It puts] into law what responsible owners already fully understand: high-quality onboard internet has become a key indicator of crew welfare and hence recruitment and retention of high quality personnel,” he said.

“Today, it also provides the basis for new and exciting next-generation job roles at sea, as well as supporting safer operations, greater sustainability and productivity gains.”

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