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Shipowners opt for Starlink services to boost crew retention

Leadership Insights newsletter story

19 December 2023
Silhouette view of a fleet of Internet starlink satellites in orbit above earth. Credit: Shutterstock

Shipping giants, including MOL, NYK, Hapag Lloyd, and Maersk, are adopting Low Earth Orbit (LEO) internet services across their fleets to enhance crew retention and wellbeing and digital operations, opting for Elon Musk’s Starlink. Maersk will install Starlink services on over 330 vessels by Q1 2024.

Leonardo Sonzio, Head of Fleet Management and Technology at AP Moller – Maersk, highlighted that high-speed connectivity and low-latency offered by LEO internet services allows crews to “stay connected with their loved ones” while at sea and supports the company’s plans for expansion of cloud solutions and the digitalisation of vessel operations.

Marlink, in an agreement with SpaceX, integrated Starlink into its services and rolled this out to NYK Line and MOL late September 2023. Under an agreement with SpaceX in 2022, Marlink integrated Starlink services into its own offering to complement its VSAT, LTE (4G/5G) and terrestrial connectivity solutions. Tore Morten Olsen, President, Maritime, Marlink, told ICS Leadership Insights that customer demand has driven this move to “ensure connectivity at all times”. The integration allows for high-speed applications like Teams and Zoom, real-time monitoring, and data transfer.

Crew connectivity and wellbeing are major drivers for LEO internet adoption. NYK plans to use Starlink for crew communications and welfare services, while MOL also noted crew welfare in its decision to roll out Starlink across all vessels.

Yuja Inoue, senior co-ordinator for the innovation team at Mitsui OSK Lines, told ICS Leadership Insights the adoption of Starlink across its fleet to retain and attract seafarers amid a demand-supply gap that is at an “all-time high”. The aim is to improve crew welfare, promote life at sea, and enhance interaction with the crew family through internet services similar to onshore.

However, at present, LEO internet services will not replace VSAT and L-band. Starlink, a “best-effort” service, is not suitable for safety services or communications requiring guaranteed throughput, according to Tore Morten Olsen. The focus, for now, remains on enhancing crew connectivity, wellbeing, and operational efficiency.