by Susan Huppert, NAMMA
Gladstone Seafarers Center’s General Manager Jessica Mulhall, was asked to provide a list of her “wildest dreams” to Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ) on behalf of seafarers. Her list included free Wi-Fi for the ships at anchorage near the Port of Gladstone, Australia. Although the need was on the radar for years prior, due to a recent surge of support she felt the request was worth the try. The Port Welfare Committee proposed the concept to MSQ. They agreed.
“In four months our dream became reality,” said Mulhall.
MSQ is Australia’s government agency whose goal is, in part, to protect Queensland waterways and those who use them. They partnered with internet provider, Testra, and Insite Communications to design and develop a system to provide internet access to ships at anchorage, at no cost to seafarers.
March 2, 2021, the business partners and MSQ launched the first six-month trial phase of such a unit in the port of Gladstone, Queensland. Thrilled with the prospect of a problem solved, Mulhall was onboard for the first trial run on a ship at anchorage.
“The crew members were really excited,” she said. “Ten crew members poked their heads into the room as soon as the device was connected.”
Once the seafarers understood what was happening, they retreated individually to process what the equipment would mean for them personally, according to Mulhall. Much needed contact with family and loved ones not previously possible onboard without the purchase of SIM cards and costs is becoming a viable option.
Internet is available in the seafarer center. However, for the average 10 to 15 ships docked daily, that is challenging due to COVID. Even more challenged are the seafarers with no internet on the multiple ships waiting at anchorage in greater seclusion.
During the initial trial, the unit was taken by helicopter to a ship at anchorage where the seafarers have been for 45 days. It was a meaningful moment as the isolated crew’s needs and the technician’s skills converged. And it worked. An additional step is to see if more than one unit can operate onboard simultaneously.
“As it developed virtually, it was a great opportunity for the tech who had never been onboard a ship and for those in the maritime industry to see the way they interface with the technician,” said the ministry’s general manager.
The process helped the technician understand how to improve the packaging and assembly for specific end-users. The initial development cost of approximately $7,000AUD will be less as it rolls out. MSQ is encouraged by the innovation in the maritime industry and the potential for other uses.
For more information: http://gladstonemts.org.au/