We bring you seven fascinating takeaways from this year’s Annual Conference, 6-17 July.
1. The virtual conference went global, says CEO Gwynne Lewis
Gwynne Lewis, CEO of the IMarEST
Holding the Annual Conference virtually meant we were able to reach a much larger audience than would have been possible with a ‘traditional’ event. This year, 2,900 people signed up from at least 77 countries – that's truly amazing.
There’s a massive appetite for informed debate and knowledge sharing about everything going on in the marine sector right now. Hosting an open-access event on this scale shows the Institute can deliver a breadth of content that is relevant to the wider marine community.
One insight I’m really pleased about is that the virtual format clearly appealed to a younger demographic, demonstrating their thirst for new knowledge as they embark on their careers.
By providing a glimpse into our activities, I hope many more people at every stage of their careers become members.
We’ll all benefit, as will the marine sector as a whole.
Read the full Gwynne Lewis interview here.
2. Unmanned vessels are revolutionising surveying
The most-visited session in this year’s IMarEST annual conference was Don Ventura’s fascinating presentation on ‘The Next Generation of Unmanned Surface Vessels’ (USV) on 7 July.
Still a relatively recent innovation, USVs are already performing complex hydrographic and geophysical survey operations. They can currently carry out remote missions for up to 7 days at an average speed of 7 kt and to a depth of 300-400m.
Engineered for safety and reliability using traditional, proven propulsions systems to keep maintenance low while they’re on operations, these maritime drones could play an even bigger role in the future.
Don’s takeaway: While industry-leading experience in design is shaping the next generation of Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs), it is the strict rules governing their use in jurisdictions around the world that could limit what they could achieve.
3. Marine professionals need to be resilient – and adaptable
In a great session on 9 July, Martin Shaw, MD and founder of Marine Operations and Assurance Management Solutions, tackled ‘Complexity and resilience engineering in shipping organisations: Bouncing back from surprises.’
Martin’s big point was this: More processes can lead to over-complexity and over-optimisation. We need to find out what the root causes are when things go wrong – and not just focus on human error. We need a new way of adapting how we do things.
He told Marine Professional after the session: “That means more reliance on people knowing how to adapt when things go wrong. It means trusting the people at the sharp end to make decisions ‘in the moment’ and recognise the only reason ships work at all is because of them. It also means designing ships, systems, and processes for resilience, and for seafarers.”
4. Urgent action needed to protect ocean from climate change
Left unchecked, the climate emergency we are facing into will have unprecedented societal and economic impacts that will dwarf the COVID-19 pandemic. It might not be making the news headlines right now, but this issue hasn’t gone away.
Professor Ralph Rayner’s hard-hitting ‘Climate change and the ocean’ presentation on 8 July is one we should all pay attention to. If the world doesn’t act in time, deadly heatwaves which are already becoming more common – Australia recently bore the brunt of horrific wildfires – could make much of the planet uninhabitable and cause further damage to the oceans.
Then there is the shrinking – and disappearance – of the Arctic ice. It’s a catastrophic blow to our already struggling ecosystem.
Looking at what could lie ahead, Professor Ralph Rayner asked the question many of us don’t want to: Are we now at the tipping point?
5. We must improve mental health at sea
Seafarers’ mental health was already under stress before COVID-19 – and things got worse as crews became stranded and struggled to get home during lockdowns.
In the hard-hitting ‘Mental Health at Sea’ session on 7 July, seven experts from across the maritime sector considered what life is like for many at sea, where poor conditions and loneliness are rife, and isolation is at the heart of a poor mental health tsunami.
The positive aspect of all this is that at least society and the industry finally seem to be on the same page. In the UK, authorities boarded a number of cruise ships this summer to check on seafarers’ welfare.
The big question has to be: what can the maritime sector do to make things better. Do we need regulations to force organisations to improve or is guidance enough – and what resources are out there to help organisations and seafarers.
Then there’s the “nasty end of the shipping industry” explained Tommy Molloy, ITF Inspector. When people are treated badly, it is clearly going to impact their mental health.
The reality is there is clearly still much to do.
6. We can't shy away from ballast challenges
One of two excellent conference ballast sessions, the Key Water Ballast Topics During Implementation' session on 14 July took a timely look at the challenges of implementing global ballast water management regulations, with COVID-19 causing delays to BWMS service and maintenance.
All ballast water systems have vulnerabilities which the IMO testing processes can root out, no matter where they occur.
Marcie Merksamer from EnviroMangement shared her insights on where companies are failing compliance and Kevin Reynolds explained why it’s “absolutely critical” that companies have a ballast management plan in place to ensure systems function.
Marcie and Kevin are leading members of the Ballast Water Expert Group which regularly uses its collective knowledge to give guidance to the industry and the IMO.
The big issue: With new IMO regulations on the horizon, their expertise is needed more than ever.
7. Naval engineers are key for a sustainable blue economy
The second week of the conference saw the thought-provoking ‘Naval engineers: Supporting a sustainable blue economy’ presentation on 13 July.
As climate change becomes ever more pressing and changes the world we live in, there will be increasing sovereign conflicts over sea routes and the mining of valuable sea-bed resources such as the metals needed to power technology.
Environmental, geopolitical, and economic pressures are already leading to blatant disregard for the environment and people’s rights in what was described here as “the last frontier”. Then there is the need for marine vehicles to move towards net zero emissions.
Add to that the changing nature of warfare and the promise of how Industry 4.0 will bring naval design into sharp focus as fleets become data and digitally-led, and we can see the enormous scale of change facing the naval engineering community.
Professor Catriona Savage asked: With half of the global population already living within 200km of the world’s coastlines, a figure which is set to double by 2050, “when do we lead and when do we follow?”