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VSAT is from Mars – Shipping is from Venus. iDirect VSAT podcast #2

By • Sep 3rd, 2012 • Category: iDirect

VSAT is from Mars – Shipping is from Venus: why defining objectives and establishing best practice is essential for the success of both. With InterManager Secretary General Captain Kuba Szymanski.

This podcast from Coracle Online has been produced in association with iDirect Maritime

Thank you for downloading this podcast from coracle online. This podcast is sponsored by iDirect. iDirect is the platform of choice for maritime VSAT connectivity helping ships and their crews work more efficiently and stay connected with global operations. You can find out more at

Welcome to the second in the iDirect ‘VSAT Executive Briefing’ podcast series. Featuring market research findings, business intelligence, case studies and interviews, the series is designed to provide senior executives at ship owner and manager companies with strategic and operational
information about VSAT.

In this episode, VSAT is from Mars, Shipping is from Venus, we hear from Captain Kuba Szymanski, formerly General Manager at MOL Tankship Management Europe and currently Secretary General of InterManager, the international trade association for the shipmanagement industry.

Representing the views of its members, managing more than 4,370 ships and responsible for some 250,000 seafarers, InterManager have taken the lead in focussing attention on the growing significance of communications. iDirect met Captain Szymanski at a recent InterManager conference in Singapore and asked him why InterManager, known as the ‘voice of shipmanagement’ decided to spearhead best practice development and what they discovered

It was around 2 years ago, it was because nobody was doing that and we do want to provide some sort of a added value to our members. it would be excellent if we could prepare as InterManager best practice on purchasing communication. So at this stage it became extremely apparent, clearly apparent, that we had a communication issue and there were questions about communication, we didn’t understand each other. People in the room were saying “I’ve got excellent VSAT system” and they said “VSAT, what do you mean by VSAT?” VSAT, INMARSAT, anyone comes to you and asks, what are your priorities, and we would say, communication. This is extremely broad term. We need to specify that. In your part of the world you wouldn’t believe it, but we are ignorant, we are absolutely ignorant. Shipping industry management side is ignorant. We are ship masters, we are chief engineers, we do not understand it. So, we need some sort of assistance and help, best practice, and guidance best practice so we can spread. 2 years elapsed and we’re still not there. That shows you how difficult the whole subject is.

VSAT maybe from Mars and Shipping from Venus, but what prompted the focus to fall so squarely on the emerging VSAT solutions as opposed to L‐band?

There are obviously short comings with INMARSAT. Short comings being, first of all, expensive. Secondly, at that time, arrogancy. The customer wasn’t really counted, take it or leave it. We couldn’t leave it, we had to take it because it’s GMDSS, because it’s at that time almost the only one. So these things, that was very first thing which prompted us. Secondly, we had a problem with ever increasing communication costs and ever increasing demand for the flow and more and more people from outside of shipping industry is getting in touch with the vessel; brokers directly; previously they always went throughout the commercial operator. Nowadays agents send the message directly. Ship chandler, bunker supplier, all the stake holders are going directly into the masters email box and expect to have answer within 20 minutes, 60 minutes. The system we had, 3 times a day, does not meet this requirement. We do have a problem though and I would like to spell it because we are not ready in shipping industry to have a master working as a radio officer. But basically, that’s what it is, masters are now spending far more time in the radio room, or in his cabin in front of the computer, answering string of emails.

Whilst operational emails to Masters have brought new challenges, it is crew communications which are often cited as a key driver for adopting always‐on systems. A surprising result of the iDirect VSAT: Present and Future survey was that crew communications was becoming less
important. Did Captain Szymanski’s experience bear that out?

It was very very strong, especially when the crew was thinking we can have it free of charge. And some owners do provide it free of charge. You’ve got 3 tiers basically: free of charge, first 10 minutes free of charge then the rest you guys pay of whatever quota and the third one, we provide hardware and you guys pay for it. And all of a sudden, when the third one is employed, people prefer to go to the coffee shop or internet cafe and start using it when its really, really cheap. Environmental pressures, peer pressures, social pressures are mounting, and as discussed yesterday I think we went throughout the hike when people were definitely insisting on having Skype, always on browsing facilities. Now, cleverly, ship owners are saying, ok, I can provide you with these facilities, hardware, but you guys for usage. And all of a sudden demand slow down.

Even with environmental and social pressures mounting the iDirect VSAT survey found ship owners and managers struggling to find business case justifications for installing VSAT systems. As someone who has been responsible for evaluating and fitting VSAT at MOL Tankship and elsewhere, what is Captain Szymanski’s experience of the process and the pitfalls of managing such a project?

We started wrongly and it was IT only. And that’s definitely I learnt a lesson from that, it was wrong, because I think I was talking to the IT guys, very quickly, stuck a deal which we operations guys were not happy with. I came and I said no no no, stakeholders are telling us what we want, so the technical supers, the guys who would be end users, and masters included, we brought them in too, and they told us what they want. We also asked them what they don’t want. That was very important. So we did a SWOT analysis, what are the Strengths of the new system you expect, what are the weaknesses you are afraid? And then we analyse and try to convert weaknesses into strengths, because if you put some, I don’t know, barriers, or mitigating circumstances, you can move, can migrate them from weakness actually to the strength. And that worked far better, we also learn a lesson and did not strike a deal for whole fleet immediately. We did testing and pilot scheme, We put one from one particular supplier, we put this on board and then we definitely asked them to walk the talk. And they failed. And they failed miserably. Because then we realised their definitions weren’t very good. they told us we’d have a broadband, and we said fine, excellent! So we put this on board, our guys started using it, and it failed, chock blocked. Then the suppliers came and said, yeh but you didn’t tell us you want this capacity. We said we didn’t know we need to tell you. So what do you want? Well, you need to have to buy this. Well that’s $15,000 a month. This is not what we are prepared for. And immediately we could see that our expectations were false, and they could not deliver. We learn a lesson from that one, we went to another one. The we define our SLA, if you wish, better. Expectations were known, masters were very happy with the system. Very important for us before we start the project we had a very clearly defined base line. So we knew whether new system will actually improve our exiting system or not. Very important. Then we realise, it is 3 times more expensive, but, it does 10 times more.

A system which does ten times more than its predecessor for three times the price still needs to demonstrate real savings for most ship owners and managers. We wondered if there was one specific area where the efficiencies driven by VSAT could be quantified in terms of a dollar value. For Captain Szymanski, a clear frontrunner was remote IT support.

That was brilliant, and it was my decision. Absolutely we will pay more for that because its not a false economy. We will pay this $200 a month more but we will save $20,000 because I will not be flying Tom and Jerry to the vessel to do everything. Masters love it.

So for those ship owners and managers embarking on their own evaluation of VSAT always‐on solutions, what would be Captain Szymanski’s advice?

Have a good team, not too big, not too small. Sort of a working group. Absolutely involve stakeholders, sit down and write down who your stockholders are. You’ll be surprised how many you missed. Families are your stakeholders, charterers obviously, crew department obviously, masters, people.. spend enough time talking to these guys, well before you start going to the any VSAT providers. Know from the shipping industry what you want to achieve. Be very strict on that, write down all your expectations are. Engage in dialogue. Listen as well. Maybe there are better ways of realising what you want to achieve, so be flexible. Then I would suggest do the pilot. nothing works better than actually engaging your future provider in a real life exercise. Buying product, installing product is probably only 10% of your success. Maintaining is the rest. Do they have resources around the world? Do they have knowledge? Are they using sub contractor who is coming on board and fixing it? Who’s going to repair things? Sorry, not fixing, installing. Who’s going to repair them? Who’s going to support you? How about maintenance? And so on and so forth. Consider all those things.

Our thanks to Captain Kuba Szymanski for sharing his experiences and advice with us. To learn more about InterManager, its resources and membership please visit them at We hope you’ve
enjoyed this second in the iDirect VSAT Executive Briefing series. Please join us again for episode 3.

Thank you for listening.