In an era of ever-smarter shipping, one key area of vessel and fleet administration appears stuck in the dark ages.
Pierre Dominé explains why Stolt Tankers is rapidly transitioning to digital logbooks, unlocking a broad range of big data benefits. Although the switch from paper to digital logbooks is yet to be mandated, Pierre Dominé, Quality Assurance & Investigation Specialist, Stolt Tankers, sees no need to wait. “There’s so much data across a single vessel’s portfolio of record books, and so much potential for gathering all of that together on a fleet-wide basis for better understanding, analysis and decision-making,” he says. “However, at present, the standard is an array of large paper books, which officers have to physically write in, taking them away from other duties. There’s no real standardisation, and little chance for verification or validation, while sharing documentation (for example, for commercial or regulatory/port authority needs) requires ‘old fashioned’ methods such as photocopying, scanning, and faxing.” Dominé stresses that this is not just time-consuming and impractical, but also a source of potential human/clerical error, due to the handwritten nature of the books.“In a digital age,” he adds, “I’m glad there’s finally an alternative.”
Change is coming
On 1 October 2020, IMO enabled the use of electronic logbooks in lieu of hard copy records. Books covered by this measure include Oil Record Books (ORB Part 1 and 2), Cargo Record Book, Garbage Record Book, and Record of Fuel Oil Changeover, to name a few.Dominé, no stranger to the limitations of analogue logbooks, having spent 17 of his 26 years at Stolt Tankers as a Master Mariner, was already ahead of the game. Together with other seasoned experts, he saw the move coming and he was an early adopter of INTERTANKO’s ‘Practical Considerations for Selecting Electronic Record Book (ERB) Products and Suppliers’. Industry progress since 2020, he says, has been slow, but change is gradually taking hold.
“It takes time to change behaviour,” he comments, “but seafarers, once they’ve been introduced to a good system, quickly see the benefits in having one application, on one screen, where data can be easily entered, and in some cases electronically captured for validation. “Everything is so much easier with a simple, standardised approach.”
However, one of the hurdles, he believes, is that awareness of the benefits – at a vessel and commercial level – is lacking, while some digital systems are not yet “living up to the potential”.He explains that, across the industry, there are too many “advanced PDFs” rather than tailored solutions where AI and machine learning can drive improvements, enabling benefits such as learning engine ‘trends’ (and thereby delivering smarter preventive maintenance schedules) and benchmarking across fleets for tasks such as fuel transfers, helping create best practices.“Logbooks are overloaded with so much data,” Dominé stresses. “So, instead of just making them ‘electronic’ how do we utilise smart digital solutions to turn that into business and operational value? That’s the opportunity here.” The Stolt Tankers team has been researching digital logbook solutions since 2019 and, in June 2022, started a process of fleet-wide transformation. Stolt Tankers has partnered with Norway’s NAVTOR, an industry leader within e-Navigation and performance monitoring and optimisation, to refine a simple, smart, and standardised solution. The digital package, part of NAVTOR’s onboard ‘ecosystem’ (seamlessly connecting vessels, teams, assets, and locations) delivers the big data benefits Stolt Tankers is looking for, while reducing the potential for human error, making compliance easier, and helping seafarers tackle the administrative burden of manual logs.
“We’ve had an excellent interaction with them,” he states, “totally open lines of communication, with a real desire from their side to understand and solve our problems. The result is an integrated, intuitive, and intelligent approach that we’re now rolling out. “It’s an excellent tool for the crew and, on the owner side, opens almost unlimited doors of possibility for real-time data monitoring, efficiency, and continually enhanced sustainability. For a business like Stolt Tankers, that is key.” At the time of writing, Dominé and the Stolt Tankers team had installed NAVTOR’s Class and Flag State approved solution on some 60 vessels, with plans to complete the roll out (a total of 105 ships) by the end of this year.
The future is now
Dominé acknowledges that Stolt Tankers has emerged as “early adopters” but believes that, even though there’s no current mandate, other forward-thinking shipowners and operators will inevitably follow suit... and soon. “Why wouldn’t they?” he notes. “You don’t send a letter if you want to contact a friend anymore, or fax handwritten work details to colleagues... there are better, smarter, more efficient ways to do those things, and that goes for shipping and logbooks too.” For an industry that is at the forefront of global trade, with vessels and crews undertaking critical operations, there’s an imperative, he stresses, to employ the best solutions for optimal decision making and operations. “This is a major behavioural change,” he concludes, “but one that can lead to major benefits – and not just for crews, but for a broad range of stakeholders. “Digitalisation is transforming shipping... and it’s time for logbooks to catch up.”