Greek shipowners conquer the IT challenges

Navios, Tsakos, Thenamaris and Maran are at the forefront of satellite communications and fleet management technology, but have their own challenges to overcome

Greek ship operators’ key technology challenges are ship-to-shore communications, IT security and training seafarers for a new generation of technically-advanced ships. Some owners are using technology to overcome operational issues, while others see advancements leading to smaller crews.

Navios group IT director Katerina Raptaki explained that one of her key challenges was the shortage of IT-trained staff and crew. Other challenges for her organisation are delivering cost-effective internet, e-mail and voice services over satellite communications systems to seafarers in a tough shipping market.

Ms Raptaki was discussing these challenges at the Reality and Future of the Digital Ship seminar co-hosted by Speedcast International and Riviera Maritime Media near Oslo, Norway, in May. She said limited bandwidth to ships means that it is tough to keep crew happy when they are requesting cost-effective, secure and reliable connectivity at sea.

Navios has a team of up to 12 people in its IT department who have to deal with challenges in shore offices and on board ships. Ms Raptaki said the department can be overwhelmed by the IT issues. This situation is exacerbated by the lack of IT-trained officers on the ships.

“Presently, there are no IT people on board, only the remote support from shore,” she explained. This means that reliable, stable and adequate satellite communications is required to enable IT engineers on shore to provide remote support to the ships. Seafarers can fix the physical problems, while the IT department can mend some of the software issues, but not all. “It is impossible for us to know everything, so we outsource as much as we need,” Ms Raptaki added.

One of the key elements of remote support is cyber security. Ms Raptaki welcomed any initiative that would help protect onboard computers and IT networks from cyber threats. She said Navios had stand-alone computers on its ships for seafarers to use to load their own applications. This is instead of them using computers that are directly linked to the ship’s network. There is also a risk that vendors, agents and port officials could accidently bring malware on board and infect ship networks.

“Viruses are a big risk to vessels an infection could wreck a business if a vessel is hacked”

“Viruses are a big risk to vessels. But it should not just be about the IT, as infection could wreck a business if a vessel is hacked,” Ms Raptaki explained. Navios uses outside resources to assist in performing risk assessments and to protect onboard computers and networks with firewalls, antivirus software and other methods of limiting the threats. “We need to know the vulnerability of our systems in order to limit the risk of a cyber attack, so we have multiple security plans,” she said.

Most of the onboard computers are updated to the latest operating systems. “We have spent a lot of money and human resources to update our onboard computers to the latest Windows,” she said. However, not all systems on Navios’ ships were updated. The cargo control systems remain on Windows XP operating systems because of the cost of getting the software  updated.

Navios uses Speedcast International’s VSAT and L-band services to provide its ships with sufficient and secure satellite communications for crew welfare and operational requirements. This also includes cyber security solutions and remote support capabilities.

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Source: marine Electronics & Communications