Albacora to install FleetBroadband on all vessels
Spain’s Albacora Group has followed up field trials of the Inmarsat FleetBroadband satellite communications system with plans to install it on all its fishing vessels, support ships and reefer ships during 2009.
The challenges faced by the company, which operates in three ocean basins, include the requirement for reliable, global coverage from a single provider which allows it to access real-time data and comply with regulatory requirements.
Albacora electronics department manager Ruben Mugira is in no doubt about the importance of FleetBroadband in shaping the company’s future business.
“Fishing operations are coming to depend on the communications system. Every day there is more information from different sources, so efficient fishing is more and more about good communications,” he said.
Albacora installed a FleetBroadband 250 terminal and antenna on the 2004-built purse seiner Albatun Dos, with dedicated PCs for videoconferencing and fish-finding applications. The results – fast downloads of oceanographic map data; internet access, simultaneous voice calls and provision of crew calling facilities – have persuaded Albacora that FleetBroadband is the way to go across its entire fleet.
In addition to the Albatun Dos, another purse seiner, Albacora Nueve was fitted out while dry-docking in Abidjan during January. The company’s three reefer vessels are also equipped with FleetBroadband and Mr Mugira says the remaining fleet of 17 purse seiners and seven supply vessels will have the system installed this year.
Using FleetBroadband, Albatun Dos can access data files that took hours to download over Inmarsat Fleet 77. And though time is crucial for locating and catching fish, modern efficient operations are about more than speed.
“One of the main things is to have a global system with global coverage rather than some coverage here and some there. We want to have uniform equipment across the fleet with close to 100% service availability,” says Mr Mugira. With fishing often carried out away from merchant shipping lanes and employing specialised tonnage, the requirement is for a wide spread of coverage that keeps the boats in contact with the office and control centres at all times.
“In the last few years, the documents to be fulfilled have grown. The crew on a reefer or supply ship might have a bit more time but for a fishing vessel, the main issue is to fish and paperwork is taking more and more time," he continues. A good communications system which makes processes easier and more automatic works for crew and captain, leaving them more time to concentrate on fishing.
There are bottom line issues in play too. Albacora has seen its fuel bill drop in line with the oil price, but has had to take account of a similar reduction in the landed tuna price. Fuel consumption will remain a factor of trading point-to-point in pursuit of the catch, but technologies such as remote engine monitoring via satellite hold out the potential for improvements to engine design and fuel efficiency in the future.
Attracting and retaining crew is as important to fishing fleets as to merchant ships and here too FleetBroadband has a role to play. Using the new system gave the Albatun Dos crew a glimpse of the future; using videoconferencing, internet, email and pre-paid cards for voice calls.
Mr Mugira acknowledges that these services will only become more important. Keeping up with friends and family, checking news and sports can be an important boost to morale and productivity and the ability to manage the cost means it makes sense for shipowners too.
Crew calling with pre-paid cards will continue to feature as the FleetBroadband upgrade is rolled out across the fleet and Albacora is evaluating whether to extend access to data services from the ship’s officers to the whole crew.
So what will this technology mean to the catch? Though Albacora’s business depends on finding fish quickly, the company is known for being a responsible operator; an active supporter of fish stock management, prepared to argue for more regulation of the seas. Making Albatun Dos a broadband-equipped ship will increase her ability to operate efficiently and meet future requirements for eLogs within the European Union, US and Pacific areas, as well as comply with online quota systems.
Further down the line, Albacora sees the need for additional management systems that would allow ships to work within a worldwide fishing capacity limit. Such measures will make fishing more sustainable and also more precise, helping to protect stocks while increasing productivity, says Mr Mugira.
“We can do analysis in the office and put that information on the vessel. Day-to-day provision of information will get better and the more data the skipper has to make the right decision makes fishing more efficient in future. Time is important but this allows us to fish sustainably too.”
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