Route optimisation has become a critical component in the drive towards optimisation, particularly with the increased fuel costs that will come with the 2020 sulphur cap.
Weather routing has, in a manner of speaking, been a part of navigation for as long as ships have sailed the seas. However, the modern definition – that of providing mariners with a forecast of expected storm tracks in order that they might plot a favourable course – really began with the US Navy during the Second World War. The 1950’s saw the introduction of weather routing for merchant shipping and aviation, and the market has grown exponentially.
The goal is not so much to avoid bad weather as finding the most favourable conditions in order to minimise transit time, fuel consumption and risk to the ship, cargo and crew. But in the nascent era of the digital ship, and constant streaming of data between ship and shore, it has become possible to integrate routing with navigation planning (a requirement under SOLAS) and companies are now seeking to incorporate it into a suite of navigation solutions.
Among these is weather intelligence provider StormGeo. Founded in Bergen, Norway, in 1997 as a spin-off of a TV broadcaster, it initially began by offering customised weather services for hydroelectric power generation, before expanding into offshore. StormGeo’s move into commercial marine culminated in the takeover of Silicon Valley-based Applied Weather Technology (AWT) in 2014 making it the industry’s largest provider of digitalised route optimisation services.
At SMM in September, StormGeo announced the acquisition of navigational chart provider Nautisk, with a view of integrating weather routing with state-of-the-art chart publications into a single solution. According to Svein Kåre Giskegjerde, StormGeo Group’s head of shipping, it was a natural move. “There’s hardly any overlap between our businesses and given the presence we have onboard 9,000 vessels, plus an additional 3,000 with Nautisk, we have a fantastic base to build on,” he says.
Nautisk is one of the biggest providers of paper charts, and most mariners still prefer to have some form of physical backup. But with the requirement for most large ships to be installed with an electronic chart display system, or ECDIS, nowadays charts are as likely to be downloaded during transit than physically delivered while a ship is portside. Hence in recent years Nautisk has adapted its chart expertise into navigation software.
Added to that, advances in technology are driving demand from shipowners to keep a closer eye on a vessel’s activities at sea, with an increasing number of decisions now being taken shoreside, where previously the ship’s master had greater latitude. “Although everyone will obey the captain in the end, they want the transparency to see as much on shore as they can at sea,” explains Giskegjerde.
The first integrated package will be launched shortly, although a ‘single screen’ solution won’t be available until around the middle of 2019. Giskegjerde says the platform will have a modular approach, allowing customers to take one or both of the navigation planning and route optimisation tools, as well as the option to link to services by other providers.
StormGeo also has a strong involvement in seakeeping, having acquired Stockholm-based specialists Seaware AB eight years ago. Its BVS Seakeeping tool monitors relevant thresholds for acceleration, lashings and potential cargo damage during adverse weather and includes an optional sensor for real-time support. The motion data derived from these sensors is used to make recommendations to the Master in terms of adjustments to the speed and heading.
Giskegjerde says: “The Stockholm team are all naval architects and, compared to regular route optimisation software, the seakeeping element factors in more ship-specific data into the model. That makes it a little more demanding in terms of setup for the first vessel in a class, but the benefits are that much greater. At the moment it’s primarily used on ro-ro’s such as car carriers and container vessels. Wilhelmsen are a big user and it’s been proved in specific cases where they’ve been afraid of parametric rolling.
“So this is another component that we’ll integrate into the new platform, along with the navigation planning, route optimisation and ship reporting tools.”