I came across a Reuters article this week that was very negative about the rise in the use of remote surveys taking place via live streaming, a necessary trend thanks to movement restrictions brought about the coronavirus. Increasingly ship’s captains and other crewmembers are walking around a vessel with a phone camera switched on to show specific areas for checks, drawing on previous inspection reports that have highlighted issues.
“The effectiveness of virtual inspections only buys time, especially as many vessels in the global fleet are ageing. Remote surveys can also take longer and require weeks of work to process versus a few days for an on-site inspection,” the article suggested, a point of view I do not agree with at all.
As with so many parts of shipping, the coronavirus has sped up digital ways of doing surveys and it will, I imagine, continue to be an important way of auditing a vessel even when the pandemic recedes.
This virus episode has forced the experiment of working remotely on most of us and many shipmanagers tell me they have been testing and using remote auditing and focused inspections with the technology working. Moreover, the time saving in not having to travel is enormous and in an office more experts can look at the footage than just one, often biased, subjective and self-interested hired-hand surveyor.
Class executives are increasingly saying that the way they go about their business has now changed forever in the space of just a few months. Remote auditing, perhaps not to completely replace physical auditing/surveying/inspecting, is here to stay and it will enormously complement the monitoring presence onboard.
Contacts within shipmanagement companies confide they’re regularly tearing their hair out because of deficiencies found during inspections, audits and vettings that are totally due to the hired-in surveyor trying to show how clever and thorough he or she is to impress those who hired him or her and how difficult it is to get such records turned back – “It is in the system now, we cannot remove it anymore.”
Remote surveying with actual footage available like the bodycam footage police are using now to prove what actually happened is a fantastic opportunity for shipping.
It will, of course, dim the cosy little power play of local, independent surveyors and vetting departments who have to justify their own existence, but the advantages that this technology brings for a real-time expert assessment are just something we never would have bought into if this virus had not forced us to work from home.
Now can we please embrace new technology in our industry and not try to revert to how things were while moaning endlessly about how competent people onboard and in the shipping office used to be in the good old days?