The ultimate distributed workforce: The use of ICT for seafarers

Philippa Collins, John Martin Hogg

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    6 Citations (Scopus)


    This paper discusses the application of information and communication technology (ICT) in the commercial, non-passenger maritime sector. The paper first profiles the available technologies in this subject area, which predominantly involve globally accessible satellite communications, then examines their application in two large shipping companies. The paper considers Maritime Personnel Management in the context of seafaring, regarding the crew of a ship as a node in a distributed network, and as transnational teams. Customised personnel management and knowledge management software for the maritime market is available and this can be employed to improve operational efficiency. Shipping companies have traditionally been strictly hierarchical organisations, but evidence suggests that this is changing alongside the wider implementation of e-commerce in the sector. It was found that cost is a decisive factor in determining the extent to which shipping companies are prepared to invest in an information and communications technologies (ICT) infrastructure. However, new satellite technologies such as Mobile Packet Data now provide an economical method of transferring data between ship and shore. The 'office at sea' is a viable proposition thanks to this, once the initial investment in equipment has been made, with the ship being another node in the corporate Intranet or Wide Area Network (WAN). Extending ICT provision to allow for seafarer access to e-mails is a vital welfare provision, to alleviate isolation and assist in recruitment and retention. However, it was found not only that the seafarer's family at home may not have access to the technology to send and receive e-mails in many parts of the world, but that ship owners had negative attitudes to the use of ICT for such purposes. The potential for Maritime e-learning was investigated, the sector being supplied by vendors offering customised maritime software solutions. Fully Internet-based e-learning is unlikely to be economically viable for some years to come, due to the cost of access using a satellite link, but creative computer-based training solutions are available, based on CD ROMs and tutor support by e-mail. Computers dedicated to training use are provided by larger shipping companies, but are by no means universal across the maritime sector. Welfare provision for seafarers is offered mainly by organisations in the voluntary sector. Such organisations have made creative use of available technologies, both on Web sites and in the ICT provision offered in Seafarers' Centres. There has not, however, been an increase in enquiries and reports of mistreatment from seafarers as a result of being able to receive these over the Internet, mainly due to a poor level of Internet access at sea. 'Crew Calling' is an encouraging development as it gives seafarers their own communications link, distinct from the ship's communications system. This study indicates that the use of maritime ICT for human welfare and training is relatively limited. Although there are many available technologies which can assist in bridging the physical gap between land and sea by 'virtual' means, current business pressures dictate that only the most profitable and forward-thinking companies are willing to consider fully implementing them. The authors conclude that the provisions described in this paper will eventually become the industry norm, but that virtual connections are at present far from complete.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)209-241
    Number of pages33
    JournalAI and Society
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2004


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