We must respect our customers and provide an avenue where we can trust the information they are submitting, which could be through technology, keeping in mind that some could still falsify documents or data, so transparency and diligence is still required. Business models for risk mitigation through third party and second party inspection are evolving, moving towards partnership-based relationships with our customers, also known as ‘remote presence’. Risk mitigation and inspection has always involved physical proof (a visit from a surveyor) to ensure compliance and verify any issues that occur either onboard our customer’s assets or on land-based facilities, partially because technology has not always been able to verify the data or evidence as authentic. LR is now moving towards a different business model in which technology readiness gives us the opportunity to strengthen our confidence in the documents, imagery and data we review, which in turn helps reduce the number of physical visits our surveyors need to complete.
Historically, risk mitigation has often been a separate process, whereby the customer and classification society work separately when it comes to inspection and as a delegated regulator – LR is required to have rigorous inspection techniques to ensure the safety of the ship and any accompanying machinery and equipment. In previous times, it was hard for classification societies to have confidence in the imagery and documents, with regards to validity and authenticity, as technology could not always determine if it’s the correct ship, the exact location, or if it’s the specific equipment and machinery in question – making it easy for some to falsify data or manipulate imagery.
For third party inspection, we are a delegated regulator on behalf of a flag State through our RO (Recognised Organisation) statuses for various countries and are subject to audits by those authorities to ensure robust and correct techniques for risk mitigation. If authorities don’t have a high enough level of assurance in our techniques, we could risk losing our status to perform verification activities, a core part of our business. Therefore, this change has taken time, yes - some technology has been around for a while, which we have spent time testing, but the regulatory freedom and the culture to adopt them has taken time. We need to ensure that the technology is reliable and can properly assist us in safely verifying our customers’ ships.
Over the last few years, we’ve spent time piloting and testing technologies and now we need to phase-in technology adoption across the scope of services we offer and consider all stakeholders in this cycle – the wider industry, technology providers and regulators – and take them on this journey. We’ve fully understood and embraced that these technologies are at a much more advanced state of readiness and the time is now to phase-in their adoption, whilst also fully recognising that we work in a regulated space and we are still fully responsible in ensuring that specific vessels, machinery and equipment are safe - giving our customers a license to operate. It must be said that during the implementation of these technologies, each stage will need to be validated and proven and cannot be taken for granted. ‘Remote surveys’ will not be promoted as the answer to every issue our customer experiences, instead we will recognise that they have a place in the suite of customer experiences and will be offered when deemed appropriate and safe.
New partnership with our customers
Part of this move towards ‘remote presence’ means there is a change in the way we work and collaborate with our customers, a more partner-based relationship is needed. Look at some of our typical customers and their responsibilities – consider a captain of a Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC), for example, they have the lives of the entire crew, the environment in which they operate and a considerable amount of crude oil – all within their accountability. This indicates the high level of responsibility that sits on the shoulders of our customers – so when minor, noncritical issues occur, and we still require further proof than what the captain is showing us – there is a problem. We must respect our customers and provide an avenue where we can trust the information they are submitting, which could be through technology, keeping in mind that some could still falsify documents or data, so transparency and diligence is still required.
At LR, we take a criticality-based approach – determining how critical each case is and if it’s low or medium critical there’s a smaller consequence of it going wrong so we’re less likely to send a surveyor out, helping our customers mitigate risk and avoid downtime. On the other hand, if the case is critical then a surveyor will need to go on board. Our 260-year experience and knowledge are utilised each time a surveyor goes on board a ship, which is why there is value in sending our people out at the right time and at a right level of criticality. So, if an incident is minor, or circumstances dictate that a remote intervention is most appropriate as a short-term solution, we’ll conduct a remote survey and if it’s major, the customer and LR both understand that a physical inspection is needed. Part of ‘remote presence’ will involve rounding out our service offering to be appropriate in all scenarios, to make sure safety is paramount at every stage, but also avoiding any unnecessary downtime.
How does technology support this business change and help evaluate risk?
Technology now provides high fidelity assurance, meaning we can be far more confident that what we’re seeing is an accurate representation of the situation. We didn’t have this technology to start with and needed this level of technology readiness to have this sense of trust that what we’re seeing is right. Now you can get high definition images with metadata which has the GPS location, so our surveyors know where that picture was taken, along with data integrity checks and the necessary audit trail, so we are confident that it’s authentic and wasn’t taken onboard another ship at a different time or location.
In most cases, if an issue occurs - surveyors are required to assess the integrity of the wider system, not just the item in question. For example, if you were to assess what kind of repair a small structural defect needs, our surveyors would look at the overall structure to assess its global and local strength. A potential reason as to why remote survey uptake has been slower than expected. However, modern techniques such as drone technology and livestreaming software has meant that we are now able to access this information easily and therefore make better, more informed judgements faster than before, helping us improve the risk mitigation process for our customers.
Different technologies under ‘remote presence’ can prevent business disruption, saving time and operational costs. If we take special surveys as an example, particularly on Enhanced Survey Programme (ESP) ships, such as bulk carriers and oil tankers. These ships have a rigorous requirement whereby surveyors must inspect the structure and measure the thickness of the steel, often through ultrasound techniques which can inform the surveyor of how thick the steel is. This can be expensive for owners – as the vessel needs to go in drydock and scaffolding needs to be erected by the shipyard, which can be expensive. Rope-access, an early form of remote surveyance, is when a specialist team of climbers rappel down the structure with a harness and take live footage of the structure. A surveyor is sat at the bottom of the ship reviewing this footage whilst also having the thickness measurement relayed as the specialists travel down the structure. Scaffolding is not required, and in some cases, rope access can be performed in a safe anchorage whereby a drydock is not required. This has a significant cost saving and reduces downtime for our customers. Seeing the value for special surveys, we have been authorising specialists to perform rope access verification for years and will continue to do so with our ‘remote presence’ approach to risk mitigation.
Collaboration between each stakeholder of the risk mitigation process could be enhanced through ‘remote presence’ as it could be an avenue of aligning stakeholder expectations during an incident and offer efficiencies such as getting real-time information sooner rather than later, which impacts the flag State, Port State, salvage company, P&I Club, charterer and the classification society. With older technology it was hard to get common understanding, but advanced technology can provide a level of transparency which helps get each stakeholder on the same page at a faster pace, offering a community approach to risk mitigation and management.
As part of this changing face of risk mitigation and move towards a partnership-based business model, LR has been involved with various technology pilots to validate and test technology readiness and applicability for the marine industry. A recent example of this was with Wärtsilä where we tested the company’s Remote Guidance software and Augmented Reality hardware to use during an inspection onboard a ship during its voyage on the Baltic Sea. The software had livestreaming capabilities, allowing someone on board – either members of the crew or a surveyor - to show a real picture of the situation on board and relay schematics back to Wärtsilä and LR experts at the command centre in the UK for review. By seeing the ship’s name, immediate surroundings and its GPS position, experts at the command centre could verify its exact location and relay instructions back to the crew to investigate certain parts of the ship and use live coverage to determine if an object or area is compliant and safe for operation. Doing this in real-time within seconds and without travelling to the ship, will save time, resources and will help to improve environmental footprint.
Surveys without attendance
In certain scenarios, surveys without attendance (often referred to as remote surveys), can offer great efficiency to our customers as it allows for quick responses on smaller, less critical tasks, helping customers reduce the level of unnecessary downtime and resume operations in a safe and timely manner. In other words, our customers don’t always have to wait for our surveyors to physically attend their vessel before continuing their operations. A recent example of this was with an operator of a hybrid vessel, powered by a mixture of diesel and electric batteries, who found that its automatic battery-charging system was not working, a defect that needed to be fixed for safe and efficient operation. The repairs were completed by the equipment supplier and verified by the ship’s staff who then provided information to our surveyors, such as the servicing report and evidence from the engine control systems, to demonstrate that the fix had been done and the system was functioning correctly. The surveyor verified the functioning of the system remotely and was satisfied that the system was working correctly, without having to physically inspect the system in person onboard.
We also supported an interisland ferry operator in a remote area who struck a quay side and needed repairs to continue safe operation. The customer worked with the surveyors to assess the damage and agree a temporary repair plan without needing to arrange for the surveyor to travel to the location of the damaged ferry. The completion of the repairs was also confirmed remotely, enabling the ship to return to service quickly. As this issue was handled efficiently through a remote survey, the customer did not have to take the ferry off-hire for a long period of time.
Another example was a tanker at a remote terminal where the Port State Control (PSC) identified minor damage to the casing of the inert gas blower, which prevented the vessel from discharging its cargo until the defect was fixed and confirmed. Normally, this would require a surveyor onboard to examine the reported defect and assess if repairs are necessary. The vessel operators were able to provide detailed photographs and information of the damage and how it had been patched and tested. After verifying the information provided, the surveyors then issued a short-term certificate remotely which was sent to PSC as evidence of LR’s acceptance of the temporary repair. The vessel was then able to use the system and safely discharge the cargo, without having to wait for the surveyor to come onboard, which minimised disruption to the tanker’s operation.
We must emphasise, however, that a survey without attendance has benefits for both our customers and surveyors in appropriate circumstances, however, safety must always be and remain the first consideration.
Drone technology is another tool of ‘remote presence’; we have been working with drone operators for many years, helping us utilise available technology to prevent unnecessary downtime, whilst also ensuring safe and compliant practice. On a recent case, we worked with bulk cargo carrier operator, CSL, when one of its self-unloading bulk carriers was due a close-up survey as part of its intermediate survey. It was not due to go to dry dock until 2021 but our surveyors needed access to the cargo holds, often requiring a cherry-picker or scaffolding and staging, which can be quite expensive and disrupt business operations. Instead, we conducted a close-up survey using an LR-approved drone operator, utilising the drone’s accessibility to examine hard to reach areas of the vessel whilst still retaining the arm’s length requirement of a closeup survey. The drone was able to capture high-quality imagery to complete the visual inspection without the need to set foot off the deck. This drone-assisted survey was quick and avoided the need for expensive scaffolding and staging, so CSL’s self-unloader was back in operation in record time. It also enabled our surveyor to assess the asset’s condition from a safe distance.
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