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Take-up of remote surveys has accelerated amid pandemic

A rapid rise in demand for remote surveys by shipowners has been accompanied by a broader range of such practices which, using optimal communications, deliver better data archiving and analysis as well as significant savings in operational downtime and travel costs

WHEN the seriousness of the Covid-19 pandemic became clear, everyone in shipping was looking for ways to keep the industry moving. For DNV GL, one of the key areas was keeping the in-service fleet running, by making sure that wherever possible surveys could continue to be delivered, even when a surveyor could not attend the vessel in person.

Rather than scrambling to invent something new, DNV GL was able to ramp up an already successful existing service — remote surveys. With the first trials in 2018 and full fleet-wide access from February 2019, DNV GL has pioneered this service in ship classification. By March of 2020, the service had already been rapidly adopted by customers, with more than 15,000 remote surveys conducted and almost 25% of all surveys being delivered remotely. During the crisis, remote survey requests have ramped up significantly, with half of all vessels now having used the service and the number of remote surveys increasing 33%, to more than 300 a week, and more than 17,500 in total.

The service has also expanded to trial the first remote periodic surveys, even though most remain for minor conditions of class. Not all surveys can be completed remotely, but DNV GL’s survey request system on Veracity can automatically indicate whether a survey can be executed remotely or not. Delivered from specialists in one of DNV GL’s operational centres in Hamburg, Oslo, Houston, Piraeus and Singapore, coverage is ensured around the clock. Remote surveys result in considerable savings in operational downtime as well as travel time and expenses.

DNV GL, with experience that comes from delivering far more remote surveys than any other class, is well placed to advise on what makes for a successful remote survey. First up is communication. There are many ways to successfully complete a remote survey — the crew can be in constant contact with the surveyor, transmitting live video, or through supplying photographic and documentary evidence of the completed work or issue.

For direct video communication, 3G is generally the minimum, but 4G or even VSAT is the best option, said Stener Stenersen, DNV GL’s Head of Technical Support Norway. Occasionally a poor connection will prevent using live video, but with creative solutions, even surveying from deep within the vessel is possible. In one instance the crew suspended a router from a skylight to transmit live video from within the engine room, Mr Stenersen said.

Even without a live link, DNV GL can accept recorded videos of work being done that are relayed from an area with a stronger connection, so long as this is properly verified. As well as the crew assisting in remote surveys, third-party contractors can also deliver specialised services to aid in performing some types of surveys by using, for example, trained drone and ROV (remotely operated vehicles) operators. Recently DNV GL completed a series of ship surveys using ROVs on three Wilson-managed vessels — the world’s first in-water remote ship surveys.

In addition to the significant savings in operational downtime and travel costs, Mr Stenersen noted that because all of the evidence from remote surveys is digital documents, for example the videos of work being done, photos and notes, the information can be much more easily archived and the key findings extracted and analysed. This store of information on DNV GL’s open Veracity platform could also prove extremely useful when surveying sister vessels, or for customers to supply to other stakeholders in the future.

Marianne Valderhaug, Director Technical Support at DNV GL, believes this is something that will add more value and interest in the service, now that customers are becoming accustomed to remote survey. She said inspections in person are preferable for periodic surveys, but remote survey has more than proved its worth under 2020’s difficult circumstances and is becoming the preferred method for handling occasional surveys.

As the scale and scope of remote surveying continues to accelerate, Ms Valderhaug said, training crews in what is required to perform a successful remote survey may become an important part of seafarer education. It also offers a new growth area for approved third party contractors who can operate drones and ROVs. And as the technology develops, drone and ROV surveys could be conducted in transit, either by the crew themselves, remotely controlled from shore, or even autonomously.

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