The shipping industry has been treading water since the great recession in 2009. A price war among operators of container lines was one of the first signs of the industry downturn and this was shortly followed by a slump in rates to charter vessels for grain, iron, and coal. Finally, there continues to exist a surplus of vessels on the market that were ordered in the previously buoyant economy but whose capacity is no longer required. As if this has not been enough, high oil prices have presented equal operating expense pains to ship owners and container shipping companies.
Many companies have resorted to “slow steaming” as a solution. This entails cutting the average travelling speed from 20 knots (23 mph) to 17 knots (19.5 mph) to save on fuel. Additionally, extra ships have been included in the “string” so the same level of service or supply can be maintained. Some operators have even reduced their vessel speeds to 15 knots (17.3 mph) or less. Although this is bad news for the overall shipping sector, it does open up opportunities for other vendors in the market, particularly maritime connectivity vendors.
A container travelling from the port of Shanghai to Lisbon, Portugal, for example, must travel approximately 10,700 nautical miles. As such, at normal travelling speeds, a container would take an estimated 465 hours (19 days) to reach its destination. At “slow steaming” speeds, it would take 550 hours (23 days), and at “super slow steaming” it would take 620 hours (26 days). This presents a bigger trading window for maritime connectivity providers. Containers in certain regions or over 300 gross tonnage need to maintain satellite communication with a designated land point by mandatory regulation. Additionally, crew members will want to stay in touch with their families and loved ones when away from home for even longer periods of time – with the added bandwidth provided by VSAT services which continue to penetrate the market, this is easier than ever. Super slow steaming could equate to a 33% revenue increase to maritime satellite connectivity providers and this is not even including the possibility of more containers on the string route.
Furthermore, these longer voyage periods could have a major effect on which type of satellite services ship owners subscribe to. L-band is charged on a pay per megabyte basis. So, the longer a vessel is at sea, the greater the satellite costs will be. However, VSAT offers a fixed monthly usage plan. Approximately one in four commercial vessels currently uses VSAT systems. It is widely believed a large number of vessels will begin trialling VSAT systems in the next 12 months.
Valour Consultancy provides in-depth analysis and quantitative forecasting of trends in connectivity and other emerging technologies for the maritime industry. Its study entitled “The Future of Maritime Connectivity” provides an overview of the key satellite technologies on offer and the most attractive application sectors.