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Inmarsat offers calling cards for crew

Most of the ship owners in the Middle East are caught between the need for crew calling services to be available on-board and the complexity of tracking and costing every call, said a telecom specialist.

Gulf News

Most of the ship owners in the Middle East are caught between the need for crew calling services to be available on-board and the complexity of tracking and costing every call, said a telecom specialist.

A study, commissioned by Inmarsat Ltd, and conducted by independent research company Gilmour, revealed that only four per cent of ships surveyed have equipment dedicated to social crew communications.

"Ship owners are often in a dilemma when it comes to crew calling facilities especially when because the Middle East family ties are very important and having constant contact with your loved ones is indispensable," said Rehan Sohail, sales manager in Lambada Electronics.

There is high usage of mobile phones, with 75 per cent of officers taking their own mobiles to sea. However, mobile phones have a number of drawbacks, not least of which is that it is not intrinsically safe.

"Mobile phones are dangerous on oil rugs," said Karim Mallash, a project engineer working for Schlumburger in Abu Dhabi. "Mobile phones are banned from use on both, offshore and onshore oil tankers and gas carriers due to the risk of explosion generated by the use of these phones and we have very strict control measures to prohibit the staff from using them.

"Despite safety issues, high roaming call charges and very limited range, seafarers are making extensive use of mobile phones because there is usually no alternative form of communication available to them," said Robert Johnson, director of maritime business at Inmarsat.

As a response, Inmarsat makes available through its Land Earth Station operators pre-paid calling cards that offer crewmembers private and personal communications with no hidden costs and no worrying prospect of a big bill at the end of the voyage.

Voice and email messages can even be converted into documents for postal delivery to destinations where electronic communication is not possible.

"We know that the majority of owners would allow social calls, if they were facilitated through phone cards, so that there would be no administration or monitoring to do," said Johnson.

"In the past seafarers have used shore-based pay phones to communicate with friends and family. However, changes in the maritime industry have made this method increasingly difficult, with ships spending less and less time in port.

In fact, our research shows that over 40 per cent of ships surveyed spend less than 24 hours in port, with the majority of crews on 8 to12 month tours of duty."

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