Service and reliability makes the difference to MOL LNG

International shipping company MOL (Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Ltd.) owns and runs the world’s largest ocean shipping fleet, from its global headquarters in Japan. Backed by experience and technologies developed over 130 years, MOL operates specialised bulk carriers for iron ore, coal, and woodchips; tankers that transport crude oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG); car carriers; cruise ships; ferries and coastal liners; and containerships that deliver a variety of finished products as part of the largest and most diverse global network of liner and logistics services.

NSSLGlobal works with MOL’s wholly-owned subsidiary MOL LNG Transport (Europe) Ltd., which manages a fleet of 15 LNG carriers used to transport liquefied natural gas for customers around the world.

Satellite Communications (satcoms) is a key requirement on-board the MOL LNG fleet. From a business and operational perspective satcoms is used for ship email, telephone and as a means to enable remote access to vessels. Crew welfare and compliance with MLC-2006 regulations is another key driver. With crew away at sea for long periods of time it’s important for morale that Internet access and the ability to phone home is available during rest periods.

Out with the old

Pete Adsett, IT Supervisor for MOL LNG Transport (Europe) Ltd. is responsible for the installation, maintenance and support of all IT and communications equipment on-board all 15 MOL LNG carriers. He approached NSSLGlobal when things started to turn sour with his current VSAT supplier: “Basically we weren’t happy with the system that was in place. It just wasn’t achieving the download and upload speeds required, and we also didn’t feel we were getting adequate levels of support. We went through a period where the system became unstable. What’s more when issues were reported it sometimes took three weeks for the supplier to resolve them, which was unacceptable given the huge importance of connectivity to the ship and crew. The time was right to see what else was on the market and how VSAT technology had evolved.”

MOL LNG initially approached 10 companies before whittling the list down to five who were invited to respond to an official tender. Given the challenges with the incumbent supplier there was understandably lots of cross-questioning about support and SLAs that included guaranteeing bandwidth above 128kbps in both directions for the integrated alarm system.

Performance, pricing and support

NSSLGlobal eventually won the tender and was awarded a five-year contract. Peter explains: “Having been through a very thorough process we concluded that NSSLGlobal had the best combination of network performance, flat-rate pricing and support. The references we took from other shipping companies also confirmed its excellent reputation and track record in the maritime industry. The fact that NSSLGlobal owns and controls its own global VSAT network gave me the confidence it could deliver against our performance requirements and SLAs. It also felt that I was getting a solution tailored to our requirements rather than an off the shelf package.”

The solution specified by NSSLGlobal includes the installation of dual Cobham SAILOR 900 antennas. These cutting-edge antennas have the highest RF performance in the 1m class and are ideal for rapid deployment. The dual antenna set up was a very important part of the solution as it ensures MOL vessels always have a clear line of sight to the satellites. By installing a SAILOR 900 antenna on either side of the vessel, with a fast, automatic switch between the two domes, the vessels are able to constantly track the satellites and avoid any issues with loss of service caused by on-board structures blocking the signal. The dual solution also gives the vessel full antenna redundancy on-board; if the vessel is unfortunate enough to have a hardware issue then the system automatically switches to the second antenna, once again, to help avoid any instances of service loss.

NSSLGlobal also supplied MOL with a Sailor FleetBroadband 250 system as a back-up to the primary VSAT SAILOR 900 antennas. The back-up solution gives MOL an alternative channel of communication should vessels move out of the main Ku-Band coverage. The back-up service is also connected via an NSSLGlobal CruiseControl unit that links all the systems together to allow complete control. Importantly this solution also allows NSSLGlobal’s Network Operation Centre (NOC) to have remote access into both systems, once again, helping to save time and expense should a fault occur.

Challenging installation

The project began in April 2015 and the new service was functional on the first ship by the 28th June. So far 11 ships have been completed and, at the time of writing, a further three are in the process of being completed. There are also plans to complete a further six more vessels over the next two years.

The installation was quite unusual, as Peter explains: “Some of the installations were done in dry dock, but the majority has had to be installed while the ships were in active service. We had engineers flying out to Spain to get on-board and then travelling with the ship, doing the install in-situ, before getting off at the next port. The install involved ripping out the old equipment and replacing with new racks that had been built back at base. It was difficult to configure the antennas when the ships are moving but NSSLGlobal’s team did an incredible job in challenging circumstances.”

Since the installations have been completed MOL LNG has seen a marked increase in the robustness of the system, performance speeds and the amount of traffic it sends. Wi-Fi is now accessible through the entire ship and crew morale has increased thanks to the new found availability of popular social media applications such as Facebook, Instagram, etc. For voice calls MOL LNG also signed up to NSSLGlobal’s crew calling package which gives crewmembers low-cost call rates through their own personal mobile handsets.

Overall the project has been an overriding success for MOL LNG. Peter concludes: “Working with NSSLGlobal has been a very satisfying experience, both in terms of the level of service provided and the performance of the technology we now have in place. The engineers worked incredibly hard to get the job done in challenging circumstances, often going above and beyond the call of duty. The end result is a very happy crew. One person’s partner recently had a baby, so thanks to the robust new system they have been able to receive photos and conduct video calls, which has obviously made a huge difference to him.”

Ready for the future

As well as meeting MOL LNG’s immediate needs the system has the scalability to support potential requirements in the future as the industry moves into the era of the smart ship and the provision of connectivity to all ship systems and sub-systems. This could pave the way for ships to become an extension of on-shore corporate IT systems and enable additional engine data to be sent, better logistics, or even on-ship big data analysis.