Meeting the changing needs of the industry – Interview with our piloting partner VG Shipping

Ville Koskinen started his maritime career as a deckhand, and climbed the ranks to serve in almost every position available on a ship. He eventually rose to the rank of Master Mariner, and now works as Managing Director at VG-Shipping, a Finnish shipping company working with Groke Industries to trial its Situational Awareness (SA) system. Koskinen is someone who understands the shipping industry from every possible perspective.

Ville Koskinen – Managing Director, VG-Shipping

VG-Shipping operates coaster-sized cargo, open deck, and RO-RO vessels between approximately 2,000 and 7,000 tonnes and transports industrial bulk, recycled and raw materials, and project cargo with more demanding requirements. They primarily operate in the waters of Northern Europe.

While Finland and Japan may have quite a few cultural and geographical differences, they have a surprising number of things in common. They face some of the same societal challenges, and this has manifested itself in the maritime industry.

We asked why VG-Shipping was open to trialing Groke’s systems on their own ships, and Koskinen explained that there was no single reason for it.

“We have always been open to development in technology, autonomous piloting, and digitalization,” Koskinen said. “We have a new building concept project ongoing, where we are trying to find a carbon-free solution for shipping in inland waters. A very important thing there will be automation and digitalization, but there wasn’t much available at the moment.”

Koskinen described how he felt that Groke was already well along the road to development. He said that although they had been in discussions with other larger companies, when they met with Groke, they saw something different.

“We saw that they had knowledge there. They have a ready product available. Everybody is talking about autonomous vessels, but nobody has anything concrete to show. So, (Groke’s system) was something that was ready.” 

Koskinen explained that there is also an element of wanting to work with and support other Finnish companies.

“We are a small country, and we are stronger together,” he said. “Honestly, it’s just helping fellow developers to change the very old-fashioned, hierarchical maritime business…we need something new and fast and if we can help in that, it’s good.”   

When asked how the SA system will help VG-Shipping operations, Koskinen had a ready answer.

“Immediately, it brings some safety to the operations. We talk about fatigue on the sea and watchkeeping problems. Every kind of assistance on the bridge is always welcome,” Koskinen explained.

“In the longer future,” he continued, “we also need to reduce the workload of the crew…and ease their work.” “And we need to work towards autonomy and reducing crew size. The world is changing as well, so we need new schooling also.”

With the younger generations no longer looking to the sea as a means of seeing the world, VG-Shipping is having a harder time finding local workers to serve as crew. They already use crews of mixed nationalities, with around one-third of workers in lower positions being from outside the EU, with others from Finland and neighboring countries.

“This is a growing problem,” Koskinen said. “And that’s why we need to develop autonomous systems (for the industry). But I don’t know if we can ever operate fully autonomously.”

While Koskinen believes that crew will always be needed, he noted that the skillsets essential to future mariners will change to meet the requirements of operating the SA system and other new concepts.

Finally, Koskinen talked about the collaboration with Groke, and described his own experience as being highly pleasant.

“All of the cooperation was very nice…easy-going and open. I was thankful for their thankfulness (at getting the opportunity to test out their system). They told us everything they were allowed to tell us about the system, which only increased our interest to help.”

Article published originally in Groke’s exclusive customer newsletter in May 2021

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