The latest technical innovation causing a headache for the shipping industry is social media, and according to many its impact on shipping could be the greatest of all technical developments. Implementation required no timetable, no political input, no regulation, no debate at IMO, or class approval, it just appeared - exactly as it has in almost every walk of life today.
With the arrival in August of MLC 2006, the seafarers' Bill of Rights, social media is set to play an increasing role in life onboard. But all sectors of the sea transportation industry need to be aware of its presence and take it into account, especially when it comes managing risk and crisis management.
"Cyber-related risks are becoming greater in the maritime industry," Emmanouil Vrentzos, told a British Hellenic Shipping forum on 17 June in Athens. He said "an incident on board, in port or even ashore can be public knowledge within minutes of it happening through Twitter".
The news-hungry media can be in contact with a shipping company about an incident, even before a ship's master and crew are aware of it. "There are many examples of social media being used to cause greater hardship," said Vrentzos, who manages Greek, Cypriot and international investigations in the maritime sector.
Vrentzos said the shipowner is not the only one who needs to worry. An 'alleged' incident concerning loading procedures in a port can be out on Twitter within "minutes of taking place" catching the port authority completely unawares when the questions begin being asked.
"Shipping must realise the dangers of cyber crime," he said, before issuing the chilling warning: "Today, the navigation system of a ship can be hacked into and control of the ship taken over."
Mark Clark, director of Navigate Response, said the growth of social media is making it ever more important for a shipping company to have a response plan in place to protect a company's reputation in the event of a serious incident. At the time of an incident it's important a company have trained people dealing with the media so that "the company's shipping people can focus on dealing with the operational side of an incident without being distracted by the pressures of the media".
Clark went a step further saying social media is being backed by 'drones' or unmanned aerial vehicles which are now being used to an increasing extent to watch what is happening within the shipping industry. However, Vrentzos, saw some positives. "Social media, even drones, can be employed by the astute owner to enhance the operation of his ship, if it is used to monitor activities."
The forum was hosted by British Ambassador in Athens, John Kittmer, with the goal of promoting London's credentials as a maritime centre and provide Greece's Shipping and Aegean minister, Kostis Mousouroulis, with the opportunity to brief UK deputy minister of transport, responsible for shipping, Stephen Hammond, of Athens' shipping policy as Greece readies to take the EU presidency on January 1.
Hammond, led a delegation to Athens including Doug Barrow, ceo of Maritime London, Jeremy Penn, ceo The Baltic Exchange, the London Stock Exchange Group's, Luca Peyrano, several lawyers, analysts and brokers. The meeting between Mousouroulis and his UK counterpart was the fourth in a series ministerial briefings prior to January 1 which have included Cyprus, Malta, France and non-member Norway.
Both ministers also addressed the forum at the ambassador's residence and attended by some 100 invited delegates. Each stressed the Greeks and the British have a lot in common, not only in the maritime sense. Mousouroulis underlined the importance of shipping to the Greek economy and the need to overcome the economic environment using "a solid strategic vision", and concluded by quoting Winston Churchill: "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. Shipping allows us all to look to the future with optimism."
Hammond declared, "London is a good place to do shipping business" as it offers "stability, quality at a competitive price". But perhaps the UK minister summed up the event best, when he commented to this writer: "You can't run on history, you have to run forward."