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The hidden traps of connectivity onboard

The hidden traps of connectivity onboard
The Editorial Team August 1, 2022

Connectivity onboard and accessing the Internet is a fundamental right that nobody should be deprived of. With seafarers spending most of their lives crossing the oceans, being away from their families and their loved ones, can have a negative impact on their overall wellbeing. However, with these issues in mind it is important to identify and analyze the potential dangers that the use of internet can have, especially on ships.

Whilst we should address cyber threats, crimes, and dangers of the modern communications, it is of utmost importance to improve the communication for the crew in general.

Areas of concern

#1 Security issues

It comes as no surprise that ships are using more and more systems that rely on digitalization, integration, and automation. As technology continues to develop, the risk of unauthorized access or malicious attacks to ships’ systems and networks grows. For this reason, cyber risk management on board is critical. Risks may also occur from personnel accessing systems on board, for example by introducing malware via removable media.

It is no secret that cyberattacks have been rapidly increasing over the years, resulting to big financial losses to businesses for recovery, regulatory sanctions, as well as collateral damages, such as reputation and trust. In this respect, the maritime sector, which until now was considered safe due to the lack of Internet connectivity and the isolated nature of ships in the sea, is showing a 900% increase in cybersecurity breaches on operational technology as it enters the digital era.

#2 It is costly

Some companies have expressed concerns over the cost of improving connectivity. According to them, installing internet onboard would mean reducing budgets in other areas. And while shipping companies are facing more and more financial losses, especially with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian conflict, limiting their budget to different areas just to have internet on board, seems irrational to them.

#3 It distracts the crew

Some companies have found that giving internet access to seafarers can be distracting because it shifts the crew’s focus, and they cannot do their job properly. In addition, providing seafarers with internet access may trigger their urge to use social media instead of sleeping or relaxing. It is no surprise that the use of devices before bedtime is associated to poor quality sleep. Time can easily get lost online and the crew could drag itself into fatigue without even realizing it. This is why improving the connectivity onboard is seen as a major threat with respect to the work’s efficiency. According to many companies, the increased use of portable electronic devices (PEDs) is seen as visually, manually, and cognitively distracting. Taking cell phones and laptops on the bridge where connectivity is available may seem tempting, but it is considered a navigational hazard.

#4 Finding out “bad news”

Another important aspect that should be highlighted is that some seafarers may experience distress due to the fear of “missing out” and being “left out” of their friends and families. What is more, finding out “bad news” can be devastating to the seafarers’ mental health since they will feel helpless and “trapped” on board. This is why some experts believe that in some circumstances having no internet connection might seem to be a little safer.

#5 Social isolation

We have to keep in mind that a ship is not just a place of work; it is a seafarer’s home for the whole duration of the trip. Some companies believe that providing seafarers cell phones and communications means can promote employee isolation with crewmembers spending time alone in cabins.

In a small society of a ship, the communication and the relationships between the crews are critical. If you have a problem with someone and you prefer to self-isolate and watch a move instead of discussing in with them, it can be problematic. Seafarers need social interaction with their mates as an offset to stress and loneliness associated with the job; excessive internet use can be a major trap.

Connectivity is a fundamental right

Nevertheless, we cannot oversee the fact that internet access is a fundamental right. Denial of connectivity can have dire and negative psychological consequences on the wellbeing. Depriving someone of being part of the wider community of friends and family ashore can be devastating. In addition, many seafarers use the internet to gather useful information about trainings and new job opportunities.

In this regard, it is important to note that limited internet connection remains a main area of concern regarding seafarers’ everyday life onboard. Due to the weak reception at sea, seafarers have no or little access to internet services. In this unfortunate for them situation, they are deprived of online content and have no way to connect and communicate with their friends and family at home.

Especially when it comes to video calling, it has become crucial in keeping long distance relationships between the individuals separated for various reasons. Being able to “see” your loved ones and “hang out” with them even through a screen, allows an emotional connection that other communication channels, such as phone calls, texting etc. cannot provide.

According to a survey conducted by Nautilus International being able to connect to the internet makes seafaring more bearable and attractive. A high-level study conducted by ICS and ECSA in 2019, revealed that, not only is internet access for seafarers for personal use onboard ships was more widespread and available than previously imagined, but also that the positive benefits associated with this access could outweigh the feared safety concerns around the technology.

Research has actually confirmed that connectivity onboard has proved to effectively improve seafarers’ mental health and their overall wellbeing, while it is seen as a major force to attract future generations into the sector.