Seafarers stuck on ships are always looking for ways to communicate with their friends and families. They often go months without any connections with the family because of low connectivity. They can only connect with their families once they come to port. To remedy this the first WiFi for international sailors onboard ships have been launched.
The situation got even more problematic in the pandemic as seafarers couldn’t get to port because of COVID restrictions.
An Australian tech company has come to the rescue of seafarers by conducting trials of WiFi on cargo ships in the middle of the sea. The WiFi was launched onboard a cargo shipsof Gladstone Port in Australia. The ships were 20kms away from ports and shore.
A joint project has been launched for this purpose which will eventually help to enhance seafarers wellbeing and welfare. The company is planning to further expand the project to other ports and remote communities
Seafarers Can’t Afford Internet Cost at Sea
According to Jessica Mulhall, the Gladstone manager of Mission To Seafarers, this initiative is crucial for seafarers as they are deprived of internet access on the high seas because of extremely high prepaid cost. The prepaid service cost at sea is quite high which the seafarers can’t afford at their wages.
“The second they were able to access their phones they all stepped outside to have that private moment with their families and speak to them,” she said.
Craig Walker, the Gladstone Ports Corporation (GPC) who was present on the first trial of the device echoed similar sentiments.
“When we turned it on we saw the excitement in some of their faces. One of the first crew members that I saw looked at a little video of his daughter and his face lit up, and he was showing his crewmates”, Walker said.
“Those are the little things and fundamentals that we all take for granted”, he added further.
This is important for Australians as most Australians rely on seafarers for trade. 90% of world trade happens through ships.
“Those people that are out on the sea all night, all day, away from their family and away from their homes, it’s really important that they keep connected,” he said.
Crucial for Seafarers’ Welfare
Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ), General Manager, Angus Mitchell stressed the need for such an initiative highlighting that this will help in seafarers’ welfare.
“They are at sea in many cases 12, 14 months before they can get home. It may seem small just to be able to provide wi-fi and internet connectivity for the rest of us, but for seafarers, it is a really vital part of making sure that we’re looking after their wellbeing and their welfare”, said Mitchell
Reaching Remote Areas
Onsite Communications, Managing Director, Pete Schmidt, who spearheaded this said that the team is thinking of expanding it further. They have already worked with MSQ, GPC, Telstra and the seafarers’ mission for this purpose.
“Until I got on the ship it felt like another job. But when you see the impact on the people … that life-changing moment, then it makes it worth it,” Pete said.
They use a suitcase-size WiFi box weighing about 10kg for this purpose. 2 such boxes were moved between ships in Gladstone. They cost about $10,000.
“From my perspective, it’s the first we’ve seen in Australia. The box has a cradle point model which delivers enterprise security for mobile networks and two high gain antennas so that we can work out how to get the best signal”, said Pete.
“The range and security that we have on this solution is significantly better than I’ve seen before so we can go 20 kilometres out to sea”, he added further
To operate the WiFi box you need 5 people in a cargo ship room. The boxes have enterprise security for mobile networks and 2 antennas.
The trial was done to test WiFi boxes so that they can be improved further for remote operations. There are plans to reduce the size, weight and cost of the boxes to make them useful in remote operations.
“We did this piece of work by invitation of Telstra and they’ve invited us to take the solution and expand it to anywhere in Australia,” revealed Pete.
“We’re focused on seafarers at the moment but there are a lot of communities that are stuck.
This is basically instant connectivity so I can see that we’ll have a bit more work ahead of us to help people stay connected in remote environments”, explained Pete.