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Swire Pacific upgrades Singapore training centre

Tue 19 Dec 2017 by Hong Liang Lee reporting from Singapore

Swire Pacific upgrades Singapore training centre
Seafarers are trained on the latest bridge operating systems in a full mission simulator at SMTC

New simulators are being built at the Swire Marine Training Centre to ensure crews are trained on the latest technology.

Swire Pacific Offshore (SPO) is investing in its training centre in Singapore to ensure its vessel crews can use the latest technology, including augmented reality (AR) and full mission simulators.

It is upgrading facilities at its Swire Marine Training Centre (SMTC) as it seeks to keep abreast of new technologies and to ensure courses remain relevant to new vessel types entering the market.

SPO operates a fleet of 77 offshore support vessels (OSVs), including anchor handlers, platform supply vessels (PSVs), seismic survey ships, windfarm installation vessels, accommodation and multi-purpose offshore vessels. This means SMTC bridge and engineroom simulators need to accurately represent what operating systems and scenarios seafarers will encounter on these vessels.

SMTC houses two hardware-specific full-mission bridge simulators fitted with actual-size consoles and equipment common throughout the SPO fleet. There is a full-sized engine control room, a virtual engineroom that simulates noise from actual vessels and 10 desktop engineroom simulators fitted with real propulsion controls.

The facility’s training manager Noel Leith said the core areas of teaching at SMTC are dynamic positioning (DP), safety management, electrical and control systems engineering, engineroom operations, anchor handling and manual ship handling for OSVs.

He explained that a near-term development would be to incorporate AR and virtual reality as part of its broader simulator training programme. “We will be able to improve the training experience, as AR can tie in with our desktop simulators for the trainees to be immersed in a 3D environment,” he said.

Another development in the future at SMTC is the possibility of building a diesel-electric engineroom simulator. Capt Leith observed that many new vessels entering the market run on diesel-electric and a lot of them have variable frequency drives. “Most of our training here is hardware-specific and our fleet has a lot of standardisation, so that makes it easy for us to build our simulators to emulate what we have out in our fleet,” he said.

“We strive to keep up with new technology, so we will need to introduce new simulation facilities,” he added. At present there are 23 vessels out of SPO’s 77, or approximately 30%, running on diesel-electric power, particularly its PSVs and windfarm installation vessels. “Another step change would be to introduce LED projection systems, which consume less energy and produce more brilliance,” Capt Leith said.

“We strive to keep up with new technologies, so we will need to introduce new simulation facilities”

On the technology side, SMTC has been upgrading its operating system over the past 18 months. The new operating system will bring a higher degree of realism especially on anchor handling and towage training, said Capt Leith.

One recent development has been the introduction of jet cone propulsion simulation. It produces a 3D force-field and is reactive, “so if you thrust up against something, it impacts back on the vessel. That level of detail is actually quite difficult to simulate properly,” he explained.

On the subject of fleet digitalisation, Capt Leith said that this technology trend was more suited to deepsea operations and for ships on liner trades, rather than contract-based, job-specific OSVs. “But that is not to say that we would not look to fleet digitalisation, especially on larger assets,” he explained. “Otherwise I do not see ourselves proceeding down that road in the near future.”

During 2017, the SMTC has conducted training courses for around 1,000 officers, a figure that is expected to remain largely unchanged for 2018. The centre has six full-time staff offering 19 different courses and is open for training 45 weeks a year with an average of 20 to 30 trainees on-site each week.

Even during the present severe [offshore vessel market] downturn, SPO has continued to support its crew training. “Hopefully this will pay dividends on a [market] upswing,” Captain Leith said.

He drew a distinction between SMTC’s role and traditional marine colleges, saying that the centre does not provide Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) training for seafarers. He also believes it has a distinct role for the wider industry, beyond SPO’s requirements, saying that the centre is looking to attract more trainees from third parties, who currently constitute only 5% of total students

SMTC was first opened for training in June 2007 and the simulator facilities were commissioned in January 2008. “We have spent a considerable amount of money on research and development every year.” This is to expand and extend this simulator facility and open new ones in the future.

Beyond Singapore, SPO has longstanding collaboration with two training centres in the Philippines and will be opening a new DP training centre in Accra, Ghana in January 2018 as it operates vessels in west Africa. That centre will start by offering DP awareness training and other internal courses.

What are augmented and virtual realities?

Augmented reality is an emerging technology for the maritime and offshore sector as it incorporates additional information on screens that augments what operators can already visualise.

Virtual reality is considered for training as it enables trainees to learn skills in a computer-based environment. Users put on a set of goggles to enter a virtual world to simulate scenarios such as conducting repairs and maintenance on equipment via an interactive interface.

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