Shipping communications group Marlink and classification society Bureau Veritas have inaugurated a close new partnership to develop cyber-secure remote services for smart ships.

The partners said the deal links Marlink’s hybrid connectivity for digital communication and operation of ships with the remote survey and safety services provided by Bureau Veritas.

The linkage will increasingly be important in helping ship operators comply with tightening carbon emission regulations as moves to decarbonise the industry gain momentum, they said.

Although they believe the partnership to be one of the first of its kind, the two companies stressed that it is not an exclusive deal.

They are keen to collaborate with other shipping Internet of Things (IoT) companies and equipment makers to build shipping’s future services.

Bureau Veritas marine & offshore smart ship manager Vincent Joly told TradeWinds: “We want to address all the smart shipping challenges. First [we want] to gather expertise and see how we can support the shipping industry in their digitalisation.

“With Marlink we see an opportunity to work together on all aspects, and after that to see how we can join forces to propose new services as partners in terms of remote operations.”

Marlink president of digital Nicolas Furge said the work of the partnership will go beyond connectivity, which, although still a challenge in some areas, is just a means to desired digitalisation ends.

“Part of it is using our connectivity to ease remote operations. Bureau Veritas is designing what the ships of the future should look like and how they should be secure, and this is an area where we can contribute.”

Vincent Joly. Photo: Bureau Veritas

Marlink last year set up a special purpose resilient satellite network system for the Remotely Operated Service at Sea project developed by offshore services operator SeaOwl, working in co-operation with Bureau Veritas to ensure compliance to meet statutory requirements.

The companies held engineering workshops to create a resilient and redundant connectivity and control system for SeaOwl comprising a Sealink VSAT system with three antennae, dual satellite feeds and dual below-decks equipment.

SeaOwl plans to order around 20 remotely operated, electrically powered ships between 2023 and 2028 to be used for underwater inspections of oil and gas fields and wind farms.

Furge said the co-operation with Bureau Veritas will address three main areas initially.

Bureau Veritas will certify some of Marlink’s service offerings, and synergies will be sought in ways to digitalise the class society’s remote operations, he said, as well as finding joint ways to contribute to the digital development of shipping.

Marlink has anonymised operational data that can help Bureau Veritas improve the performance and cyber security of digital services and highly connected ships, Furge added. “It is what we do every day.”

Joly agreed: “To address the digitalisation challenges for smart ships, we cannot do it with traditional models of surveyors doing inspections at shipyards and visiting ships. We have to figure out new ways of operating — to use digital interfaces, to build secured services and have new verification points.

Nicolas Furge. Photo: Marlink

“This is not something Bureau Veritas can do alone. We need expertise and partners, and we need to be challenged. We are keen to work with all the leaders in connectivity, cyber security and IoT.

“Yes, we have a vision of what shipping should look like. But how to achieve it is another story, and we need to do that together.”

Vessel performance monitoring firms, equipment vendors and large computing companies such as Microsoft are other partners that could be involved, as well as ship operators and managers.

Three or four more partners could be brought in, Furge suggested: “Maritime is a niche. We need to join efforts, otherwise we will never achieve digitalisation. We need to bring the big guys with us.”

In late 2021, Bureau Veritas itself suffered a cyber attack. Lessons have been learnt, according to Joly, even though the attack did not start in the group’s classification services.

But he said: “We learned about what it means to be attacked, what is the impact, how to be resilient and how to be prepared.

“I think today we are even more credible because we practically faced an attack.”

Bureau Veritas said it had about 80% of its computing systems back online just two weeks after the incident.

Marlink has helped SeaOwl develop resilient and redundant connectivity and control systems for remotely operated offshore vessels. Photo: SeaOwl