The downside of big data

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

12 December 2016

Last week the Danish Maritime Authority (DMA) announced details of a pilot project to begin next year testing a system that collects real-time data from various components on board ships. Apparently the data flow will be transmitted continuously to shore-based organisations allowing the authorities, shipowners and marine equipment manufacturers to use the information in real-time. On the face of it this is no more than an extension of what is already possible and happening on board some ships were data from engines can be analysed by manufacturers and action taken to prevent failure or to order needed spare parts. This is done on a voluntary basis between the shipowner and the equipment maker or in some cases by a third party selected by the shipowner. However, the DMA project looks to add a dimension that very few shipowners will welcome. According to the DMA, all the sensor-generated information is collected and continuously transmitted to shore (in real-time), where stakeholders with access to the data can use the information for various purposes, including ongoing optimisation of the machinery, more efficient maintenance, ongoing fuel consumption optimisation and continuous emission monitoring. For the marine equipment industry it is, in other words, all about ’Condition Based Maintenance’, i.e. helping improve the services offered to shipowners and ensuring optimum operation and use of on-board systems. For the authorities, it is especially interesting to be able to continuously monitor whether, for example, ships' sulphur and NOx emissions comply with regulatory limits.
Deputy Director General Troels Blicher Danielsen from the DMA said, “If we can simultaneously demonstrate that the technology makes it easier to continuously monitor ships' emissions of, for example, sulphur, then it could be a big step towards more effective enforcement."
While very few owners would object to data being used by their partners, the idea that they should collect data and pay for the air time to send ashore data that could incriminate them, is not one that many would buy into. Measures such as this do not occur in other forms of transport so it is unfair to single out shipping for such treatment. It is hard to see how such a system could work without the agreement of all flag states but it is possible that some might agree and doubtless the EU would be happy to issue regulations requiring it for EU-flagged vessels. If that were the case, then the result may just be to spur even more owners to abandon EU flags and to turn their backs on modern technology all together.