The Cork Connection

The Cork Connection

Nautilus Telegraph March 2018 Edition

Nautilus International’s crew communications campaign has highlighted the case for ports to provide wi-fi services for visiting vessels – and now a young Irish company is boosting seafarer welfare and ship efficiency with a special port-wide wireless network service... 

Ireland - an island nation relying on shipping for more than 95% of its imports and exports - is taking a lead in developing the concept of ‘smart’ ports, thanks to a pioneering project that was launched by a group of self- confessed ‘garage geeks’.
Launched just over a decade ago, the information and communication technology (ICT) firm SEA-Tech Evolution has developed the SeaFi service – a special wireless network system. described as ‘a different way of sending data in a marine environment’.

The company worked with the Port of Cork to develop SeaFi and to provide connectivity across the navigational areas of Cork Harbour, from 12km off Roches Point. Further services have since been established in the ports of Waterford and Rosslare. The Cork SeaFi service was developed over a five- year period – with tests showing that it outperformed 3G networks in terms of reliability, speed, carrying capacity and stability of signal.

IMG 4684  

We have fitted out Roche's Point as a data lighthouse, bringing Marconi's radio work into the 21st century

‘To date, the SeaFi network has been tested to a distance of 27.5km (15nm) and has achieved constant speeds of between 5-15 mbps,’ the company says. ‘This is approximately three times faster than real 3G speeds and five times faster than the latest generation of satellite communications, at a fraction of the costs.’

SeaFi uses a network of strategically-positioned shore stations that connect with antennas onboard vessels. Each shore station – which, in Cork, includes an old lighthouse – can cover a radius of up to 12km, creating what is termed a Wireless Maritime Area Network, speci cally designed for maritime and ports operations with secure, encrypted, traffic.
The multipurpose ship stations connect vessels and buoys to the SeaFi shore station network, while also providing a tracking system using proprietary hardware and software.

The SeaFi Horizon service offers all visiting commercial vessels, either sailing or on anchor inside and outside Cork Harbour, multimedia-capable wireless data communication with (or without) internet connectivity, depending on particular needs.

Without internet connectivity, SeaFi is used either for connecting one machine to another or to access local resources such as weather stations or live cameras on the SeaFi network (WiMAN). With internet connectivity, it enables crews to access the port’s Virtual Private Network or simply to get access to the internet.

The project partners have also delivered SeaFi Dockside – a service which has provided shore-based internet access at the Ringaskiddy deep-water berth terminal, in Cobh cruise terminal and at the Tivoli dock container terminal for thousands of visiting seafarers since 2014. SeaFi was originally trialled for six months onboard the Port of Cork maintenance vessel Dennis Murphy and the tug Gerry O’Sullivan. Feedback showed significant savings on communication costs, major gains in ef ciency, eliminating the need for the vessels to go back to base for administrative purposes. Between 2013 and 2016, a SeaFi Horizon radio link between Roches Point and the Trabolgan Bay buoy was used to send data on wave heights and water temperature, and SEA-Tech is now working on a project to use multiple buoys sending data to help predict rogue waves.

Following the successful use of SeaFi in the Port of Cork, the system has since been deployed in the ports of Rosslare – with a platform designed to demonstrate its benefits to ferry companies – and Waterford, where SeaFi Dockside gives internet access to visiting crew and SeaFi Horizon is used for security. ‘SeaFi is one of those garage geek adventures, started with help from Port of Cork pilots and masters and the Irish Naval Service taking us
at sea to test our antennas,’ says SEA-Tech Evolution chief technical of cer Arnaud Disant, who started working on the concept in 2012 as a lecturer at the National Maritime College.

‘What we have developed in Cork could well be described as the first connected port, with ships evolving on thousands of square kilometres of waterways while being connected to a Wireless Maritime Area Network,’ he adds. ‘We have taken the idea that lighthouses could become data lighthouses, having retro tted Roche’s Point lighthouse – one of the places where Marconi pioneered long-distance radio – to send data at sea in the 21st century. ‘It’s great from a crew welfare point of view but it goes far beyond, comparing the different possibilities for a ship to deliver data to shore – they are all useful,’ Mr Disant says.

‘Outside Ireland, we have had contact with ports in the UK, France and recently Latin America,’ he adds. ‘Marine ICT is in its infancy and the maritime world is very slow to progress, but SeaFi is also about change management and change management is about education. Knowing what we have done in Ireland should change people’s mind about ship to shore communications.’