Maritime Safety in 2023: Electronic Safety Equipment, Digital Twins and Cybersecurity

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The world as a whole is becoming more online and connected almost continuously, and whilst that is generally very exciting, it can also pose a scary prospect. Digital technologies aid businesses in a variety of ways, such as automating tasks, providing real-time data, and even detecting faults to save costs. Thus, it can be important for businesses across a range of industries to adopt these innovations to avoid being left behind. However, with all this sophisticated technology, there is a heightened risk of cybercrime. 

With it being World Maritime Day on 28th September, we’re shining the beacon on the maritime industry. In this field, electrical equipment and digital technologies can offer ways to increase safety, but they can also provide increased entry points for hackers and cyberattacks. We’ve already discussed how AI is shaping the future of the shipping industry, but in this article we’re going to explore the current trends in marine safety in the digital world. This includes the opportunities for digital twins and electrical safety equipment, without forgetting the added concern of cybersecurity risks. 

An Overview of Safety in the Maritime Industry

For years, safety has been a major issue for the maritime industry, and it seems to still be present in 2023. According to the Allianz Safety and Shipping Review 2023, the number of vessels lost around 30 years ago stood at over 200. That figure has seen a steady reduction over the last few decades thanks to a range of factors like more stringent regulations, improved ship design and better technology. In 2022, there were 38 vessels lost globally, indicating a much better situation than in the past. 

Figure 1: The improvement in the amount of lost vessels over the last decade. Source: Allianz

However, when it comes to shipping casualties and accidents, the figure has been much more consistent year-on-year and last year totalled 3,032 – a number which is still way too high in 2023. Machine damage or failure is the top cause of incidents at sea, accounting for almost half of the total number, whilst the total loss of vessels due to fires in the last five years was 64.

Although the maritime industry has priorities to become more sustainable – the International Maritime Organisation has tasked the industry to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 – increased safety is also paramount. Shipping companies nowadays are equipped with sophisticated technologies to help reduce incidents at sea in the future. Read on to discover some of the cutting-edge technologies currently in place for improving safety at sea in 2023.

Electronic Safety Equipment for Marine Safety

Strong safety measures are necessary for the preservation of the marine environment, the safety of seafarers, and the protection of assets. Significant improvements in electronic safety equipment over the past few years have completely changed how crews navigate and react to emergencies. Some of these include:

Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs)

EPIRBs offer a quick and accurate way to notify rescue personnel when someone is in trouble, greatly increasing the likelihood of a successful rescue. Advanced technology, most notably GPS integration, is incorporated into modern EPIRBs, providing precise location coordinates during distress alerts, as opposed to the traditional method via satellite systems. The Automatic Identification System (AIS) technology found in some EPIRBs also enables surrounding vessels to receive distress signals and help in rescue efforts. 

Automatic Identification Systems (AIS)

As mentioned in the previous point, AIS systems enable vessels to share information with other vessels. A vessel’s identity, position, course, and speed are all communicated continually. This real-time data transmission greatly improves situational awareness for both ship operators and other nearby vessels, cutting down on accident risks and raising navigational safety.

Man-Overboard (MOB) Systems

One of the most serious emergencies that can happen at sea is a man overboard. This particular safety issue is addressed by MOB systems. These systems frequently include wearable devices with sensors that may recognise a person going overboard. They set off alarms on the boat and transmit distress signals with GPS locations to help find the person who is in trouble. 

Fire Detection Systems

The most expensive cause for marine insurance claims is fire, and in 2022, there were over 200 fires reported at sea, the highest for a decade. Electronic fire detection systems continuously scan different parts of the ship for fire-related indicators like smoke or rising temperatures. It is common practice to incorporate fire detection devices into a vessel’s central monitoring system. A smooth response to fire incidents is made possible by this connection. Alarms are set off when a fire is discovered, crew members are informed, and firefighting equipment can be quickly deployed. 

Collision Avoidance Systems

Collision avoidance systems are integral to maritime safety. These systems use a variety of cutting-edge technologies, like radar, lidar, sonar, and cameras, to monitor the area around a vessel and provide crew members with real-time data so they can make decisions to avoid collisions. By leveraging AI and machine learning algorithms, these systems can offer enhanced situational awareness, automated alerts, and assistance in navigation, especially in challenging conditions. 

Digital Twins

In order to improve ship simulation, safety, and operational effectiveness, the maritime sector has been embracing the idea of digital twins. Digital twins are computerised replicas of a physical asset, which can allow for design and safety improvements to be made without actually starting any physical work. They are produced with a combination of sensors, data collection, and sophisticated modelling tools and can assist in the following ways: 

  • Design and prototyping – Digital twins are used by engineers and ship designers to simulate and improve vessel designs. Before the actual ship is built, they can find any design problems, improve performance, and guarantee compliance with safety and environmental regulations by developing a virtual model of the vessel.
  • Training and development – In order to develop their abilities and get ready for problems in the real world, crew members can participate in realistic simulations that recreate a variety of scenarios, from navigating through difficult weather conditions to emergency response.
  • Predictive maintenance – Digital twins have sensors that are constantly checking on the health of many onboard systems, including the engines, propulsion, and navigational tools. In order to prevent breakdowns and accidents, proactive maintenance is possible thanks to the utilisation of real-time data to forecast maintenance requirements.
  • Emergency response – Digital twins offer real-time data about the state and conditions of the vessel, including during maritime emergencies. This information allows operators to make informed judgements about evacuation, damage control, and liaise with authorities and rescue teams.

Digital twins are an effective technology for a variety of applications within the maritime industry, especially safety. The technology allows for better safety around design, training and maintenance, whilst also providing information that can help crews respond quicker to emergencies. It’s not only the maritime industry which benefits from digital twins.

Cybersecurity: The Biggest Threat to the Maritime Industry?

Despite all the innovative technologies currently in place to improve sea safety, some concerns still remain. One of the most pressing issues is cybersecurity. 

As the world becomes more interconnected, cybersecurity is becoming an increasingly important issue to be aware of. In fact, as you can see from Figure 2, cybersecurity is the biggest business risk globally in 2023. This rings true for the maritime industry too, especially with the ever-increasing adoption of AI and IoT technology in shipping operations. Hackers can wreak havoc on the safety of vessels, crews and cargoes by infiltrating various systems on which ships work. Back in 2017, Danish shipping and logistics company Maersk suffered a devastating cyberattack which cost the company around $300m in damages.

There are numerous laws enforced by the IMO, the EU, as well as national and regional organisations requiring shipowners to install cybersecurity systems. Hackers may steal confidential data, interfere with navigational systems, or destroy the ship’s external communications, endangering both the crew and the company.

Figure 2: The major business risks for businesses globally in 2023. Source: Allianz

Types of Cybersecurity Concerns for the Maritime Industry 

There is an extensive list of cyber threats for the maritime industry to be wary of. Some of these risks include: 

Infiltration of navigation systems

Vulnerabilities in navigational systems represent a serious threat to marine safety. Hackers can target navigational tools like the Global Positioning System (GPS) or Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS), potentially causing severe consequences. If a cyberattack manipulates the GPS data received by a vessel, it can lead to incorrect positioning. This misdirection could result in vessels unknowingly deviating from their intended routes, increasing the risk of collisions with other ships, running aground, or even entering restricted areas.

Communication disruption

Another pressing cybersecurity threat in the maritime sector is the disruption of vital communication networks. Emergency response activities may be hampered by disrupted communication systems, thus posing a risk to human life. In emergency situations, ships rely on distress signalling tools like radio transceivers and satellite communication systems to alert authorities and other ships in the area. Rescue efforts may be delayed and crew members’ safety may be in danger from a cyberattack that disturbs these systems.

Efficient coordination with maritime authorities, coastguards, and other vessels is crucial, especially in distressing situations. Cyberattacks might make it difficult to transmit important information, get help, or update others on the vessel’s situation.

Remote control of systems

Cybercriminals and hackers can gain unlawful control of a vessel’s control and navigation systems. This can include the ship’s propulsion system and steering, subsequently causing major safety concerns. This access to the ship’s control systems can result in sudden course changes, unintended acceleration or deceleration, increasing the risk of collisions with other vessels. Other systems which can be tampered with and even disabled include alarms and fire prevention systems.

Data manipulation

Data collection and transfer is a crucial part of shipping operations, allowing the crew to make effective decisions and actions. When hackers gain unauthorised access to this data, they can manipulate it and mislead the crew into making unsafe decisions, which can put themselves, the vessels and their cargo at risk. Examples of this include: 

  • Cargo safety: Cyberattacks that change cargo tracking data can lead to operators being misinformed about the location, temperature, or condition of their cargo. This can jeopardise the crew’s or the vessel’s safety by causing damage, spoilage, or loss to the cargo.
  • Weather information: Planning and safety of a cruise depend greatly on weather forecasts. Cyberattacks that alter meteorological data might result in incorrect decisions about rerouting, adjusting speed, or seeking shelter from storms, endangering the vessel.
  • Performance metrics: Maintaining safe operations requires accurate data on vessel performance. Tampering with performance data can lead to engine or equipment failures due to incorrect maintenance decisions or operational adjustments.

As you can see, cyberattacks can cause significant safety risks – and the ones listed above are just a few examples. In order to protect vessels and their cargo, shipowners and companies need to integrate sophisticated cybersecurity technology and solutions into their vessels. 

According to DNV’s Maritime Cyber Priority Report, maritime professionals are making this a priority in 2023. The report surveys 800 maritime professionals from leading maritime organisations like the US Coast Guard, Hamburg Port Authority and Stena Drilling. 

These professionals predict that cybersecurity will cause some serious incidents in the next few years. You can see the likelihood of each one below in Figure 3.

Figure 3: The likelihood of cyber causing the following serious incidents. Source: DNV.

The Future of Safety in the Maritime Industry

As we stand in 2023, there’s plenty of awareness of the importance of safety in the maritime sector, but issues do persist. As technology advances, more concerns will likely be born from it, too. For example, as the maritime industry starts switching to alternative fuels, it has the potential to cause more safety concerns, as relatively untested fuels get carried and burned on a global scale. 

Cybersecurity is a major concern for the industry, but one that has a lot of coverage. If shipping companies can implement more secure systems with more sophisticated access points, then the risk can be lowered. However, it’s important that they stay ahead of the curve with new technologies and understand all the risks that are associated with them before adopting them. Although safety has significantly improved over the decades, it must still be on the radar of everyone involved in the industry in order to properly safeguard cargo, prevent accidents, save lives and protect business reputation. 

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