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Remote and in-person: the future of class survey

The pandemic proved the business case for remote survey but surveyors will continue to play a critical role in the next industry evolution, says John McDonald, ABS Senior Vice President, Global Business Development

Already a leader in remote survey since first launching the service two years ago, ABS has seen demand from shipowners and operators surge since expanding its range of remote options significantly in response to industry feedback.

The process has successfully streamlined business operations for marine and offshore operators as well as equipment manufacturers globally. And while the pandemic has accelerated demand, the advantages for operators are such that this was always destined to become a routine operation and we are well past the tipping point of market acceptance.

The advantages of this technology are obvious in that they enable attendance remotely for an increasing number of survey types, which means we can continue to provide safety services at a distance. There are some challenges to be managed; in particular, the increasing reliance on the ship’s crew for assistance with the survey. Since remote survey requires live video streaming in most cases, this can require satellite bandwidth.

It should also be remembered that while remote survey may work well for some operators, it is not necessarily suitable for every situation. The intent is to execute a survey remotely that is as effective as a physical attendance and this means the remote process takes a significant degree of commitment from the crew and the owner side as well as from ABS surveyors.

Of course, COVID-19 has made remote survey increasingly important, but the pace at which this adoption continues once physical access again becomes easier depends on the direction of travel for the wider industry. Remote survey technology has changed the landscape forever for class societies and their customers, but despite an accelerated take-up, remote survey will not be the only means of ensuring compliance with class rules in future.

At some point it will be operationally possible and desirable to have more surveyors undertake surveys in person. But it would clearly make no sense at all to simply get back onboard and do things the way they were done before.

What class and owners need to address is how we can better support the survey process by blending humans and technology. We know that the maritime industry is overburdened with paperwork around inspections and that much of this work has very low value.

Ideally, technology would free surveyors and crew alike to focus on the important safety work while the machines crunch data. By augmenting the process in this way, we can safely transition to the world we know is coming. That may see more remote operations and inspection processes but we will still need intelligent experienced humans to interpret them.

This blend of remote and physical survey potentially enhances the safety value of the process, focussing the skilled humans in the loop on the key areas where they add the most value.

What is critical to the future of survey in person – as well as to the safety of ships and crews – is that we re-think the physical arrangement of marine assets to mitigate transmission of infectious diseases.

It’s an urgent question for the industry that ABS has addressed with the publication of the ABS Guide for Mitigation of Infectious Disease Transmission On Board Marine and Offshore Assets, including an industry-first notation; Infectious Disease Mitigation-Arrangements (IDM-A), indicating compliance with the standards.

As has been demonstrated multiple times this year, floating assets are every bit as vulnerable to outbreaks of infectious disease as land-based facilities. The ABS guidance responds to the pressing industry need for strategies to mitigate the transmission of infectious diseases by allowing operators and owners to clearly demonstrate that the risks of infectious outbreaks have been considered.

Industry adoption of infection mitigation physical arrangements and operational practices will be fundamental to the resumption of more physical surveys in 2021. ABS stands ready to support owners and operators, with a flexible approach that works with their operational requirements.

To provide the highest possible level of flexibility, ABS has released Smart Scheduler, the industry’s only mobile survey booking tool that allows surveys, including remote options, to be scheduled via SMS text or WhatsApp in less than a minute from anywhere 24/7.

It’s a smart, intuitive system which leverages real-time AIS data to enable booking of in-person and remote surveys and a custom pre-arrival checklist which brings together port state data from all ABS-classed vessels. Other tools include ISM Code Findings and a Port State Control risk tool which provides customized inspection analytics by vessel or fleet.

This breaking down of traditional data barriers means that an owner classing with ABS can understand the choices around their upcoming survey and access new types of information including data that illustrate how inspection and detentions are trending. They can also make a judgement as to whether the physical cost of a survey is going to be different from one port to another.

We don’t see the provision of this technology as removing humans from loop, it’s more a case of augmenting what they do, and we think the effects will be transformational for delivery of class services. Accessing data this way reinforces safety for owners because it provides access to the latest intelligence, not the last paper copy that can be located.

This combination of remote, smart and human-centred technologies is transforming the future of survey and how it fits into our vision of shipping’s digital future.