How Greywing discovered the Crew Change Crisis

This is a story that follows the evolution of Landfall - a product of Greywing that streamlines and optimizes crew changes in the shipping industry.

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Nick Clarke
CEO and Co-founder of Greywing. @NickGreywing

March 23rd, 2020 — Singapore.

“We are delaying all crew changes until April the 30th…”

said the Crew Manager of a Top Ten Global Ship Manager,

“…we hope things will have changed by then and we will be able to fly crew home.”

I normally spoke to Company Security Officers about piracy, intelligence and risk management. Now, instead of talking about crew trapped in a kidnap and ransom situation in Nigeria, I found myself discussing crew, trapped offshore against their will, unable to disembark because of COVID and the heightened Port State immigration control measures, in the rare case where they could disembark, they could not find a flight home.

The Crew manager continued,

“Last week we flew on-signers to conduct a crew change in Moroni. In mid-flight the immigration control measures changed. When they landed they were not allowed out of the airport and when the agent did manage to get them to a hotel they were not allowed to embark the vessel. It was a catastrophe and we had to fly them home, at a huge cost - for nothing.”

Hrishi, the Greywing Chief Technology Officer & Co-founder, and I sensed it was the beginning of a crisis. We agreed that we should spend 48 hours learning about the problem, to see if there was a solution.

Over the next 2 days we had the same conversation with Crew Managers all over the world, they had the same problem but no solution. Everyone we spoke to had crew turned around on flights, crew changes cancelled at the last minute, crew trapped in Port State Countries unable to embark.

The problem was universal, and sourcing correct information was patchy at best. After careful consultation with clients about what would help them, we built two things over the next 5 days:

  1. Our piracy intelligence platform was updated to deliver COVID-19 related intelligence on where clients could conduct crew changes given Port state Control and Flight Restrictions.
  2. Landfall conducted a historical analysis on where a vessel had been since the 1st of January 2020 providing a risk assessment of the extent to which COVID had impact at the countries where the vessel conducted port calls and analysing crew change data to empower clients to make decisions on their vessels given the risk rating of COVID being on board. It gave them tangible evidence to negotiate with Port State Authorities.

We spoke to everyone who would talk to us, Owners, Managers, Port State Authorities, Airlines and Ship Owners Associations — we wanted to know what we could do to help.

We updated CRY4 - our intelligence platform, Landfall and our fleet monitor tool Flotilla in the coming two weeks.

But this was just the beginning.

March 30th, 2020

“The risk assessments don’t solve the problem.” He said, “Even if you help me prove to Port State Authorities that a vessel is low risk and I can take the crew off, it is meaningless if I cannot replace the off-signers with on-signers.”

My heart sank. In our analysis, all we had to do was prove that most vessels statistically had such a low likelihood of COVID being on board that we would be able to get crew moving again. It wasn’t the case.

We could see that we had to go deeper and walk through a solution that handled the on-signer deployment as well as the off-signer repatriation.

The challenge of matching individual off-signers with their replacement on-signers, identifying a viable port where they could change and providing viable flight options, to trigger a crew change to take place within a 24 hour window, was immense.

The technology did not exist.

I did not see how we could solve this problem; we were pretty low. We had put all this effort into a solution that didn’t even get crew halfway to getting home.

April 3rd, 2020

Then we got an email.

John, a C-Suite Exec with a top ten ship management company had seen some press on what we had been doing on Seatrade, watched a video they had posted on Youtube and dropped us an email.

Good day!

I saw your video about the above on YouTube and wondered if we might have a chat on how we might collaborate on this?

[The company where I work] Ship Management are one of the world’s largest third party ship managers. We would very much like to talk!

Our spirits lifted, over the next week we had a series of in-depth discussions about their Crew Change problem and what solutions they needed.

All the best ideas came from them.

Primarily,

  1. That they wanted us to track each vessel in their fleet and optimise when and where that vessel could conduct crew changes using the following information:

    1. The voyage Plan, and
    2. The concept of having alternative nationalities of on-signers to increase the likelihood of a successful crew change taking place.

The second insight, which came from their VP of Crewing, was powerful.

Their suggestion was that if our technology identified a viable port to conduct the crew change where we could successfully take of lets say an Indian Crew and fly them home but for flight or other perhaps immigration reasons/restrictions, we were unable to fly out a replacement Indian crew, then we could have a different nationality on stand-by:

  • Russian
  • Ukrainian
  • Indonesian
  • Filipino
  • Or any other Crewing Nationality the Crewing Manager had available to deploy

This exponentially enhanced the chances that our algorithm, constantly scanning millions of variables to confirm a crew change, would come up with a result.

We have deep technology techniques that we can apply to a problem but every one of the key insights that has moved us closer to a solution, has been client led.

The client loved it, they wanted a proposal to put in front of their board on Tuesday. It was a straight-forward solution, yes a bit of leg work for our technical team, but we felt comfortable on the delivery — no problem.

After a review by the board… we did not progress. The response we got was,

“It is a no for now. but if you develop the product and start delivering this to someone else then we will take another look.”

Understood, no product, no COVID clients, no track record — but we had some important lessons, that would serve us well in the future.

1st April 2020

A couple of days prior to the loss of our first proposal Steen Lund, Chairman of the Singaporean Shipping Association, Digital Transformation Committee had reached out to other members in Singapore with the following note (Highlighting as in original),

“Dear DTC members,

Nick Clarke and his team at Greywing are working day and night on establishing a platform with the purpose to:

A. Generate a risk profile of each ship relative to it having crew on board with the COVID-19 virus — a scoring of ports called over the past 90 days and nationalities on board incl. which port of last crew change.

B. Map port restrictions (somewhat akin to what Wilhelmsen or V. Ships have done).

C. Map air traffic restrictions (and from there derive how crew change can be made).

Attached you will find a writeup from Nick detailing what has been done and the planned next steps ahead. Enterprise Singapore and XXX got involved this morning, and are contemplating to assist with funding subject to SSA members seeing a business need. So, what can you do ? If you are an owner or manager and struggle with crew changes, you might want to reach out to Nick. He’s in cc and his contact details are in the attached email.

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. The DTC does not promote specific solutions or organisations. The inability of shipping companies to perform crew changes is, however, an international problem that gets bigger by the day. We need to come together to provide transparent data in a manner that allows governments to risk manage which vessels can be deemed more safe to allow crews to change. Downstream hopefully such an approach will also trigger solutions around transporting crew internationally. Solutions are required before the global supply chain suffers from an inability to safely operate vessels.”

I reached out to every member on that email, 72 people in total, on the email chain with a message on LinkedIn thanking them for taking the time to engage with us and letting them know the best way to contact me if they had any further questions.

Nine people wrote me a note to say thanks, but we are fine with our current model.

One messaged me back…

Hi Nick, can we have a call tomorrow?

Or could you approach my colleague XXX in Cyprus? He heads our Crew Management

I want the team to look at it.

He was Bjoern Sprotte, CEO of OSM Maritime Group. A rapid succession of meetings happened over the next few weeks. The client development we had done previously meant that our understanding of what they needed and where we could have the greatest impact was refined. The process moved seamlessly and they requested a proposal.

Within 48 hours our Proposal was reviewed and approved subject to contract, which we turned around overnight and then 72 hours after that we had a signed contract.

Working closely with Julia Anastasiou, Deputy Managing Director at OSM and a subject matter expert in Crewing, we developed the following scope of work to rapidly deliver solutions to OSM’s crewing team.

We agreed that what would help them the most was;

Live Vessel Tracking

  • Breakdown of crew nationalities on the vessel
  • Future crew data integration
  • Capability to allow Client Team to update crew nationalities manually
  • Vessel stats: live location, speed and risk status
  • Overview voyage plan & future port calls
  • Batch process onboarding of large fleets
  • Crew Management Software Integration for automated vessel crew nationality updates
  • Customised dashboard

Vessel Route Planner

  • Port State Control Restrictions
  • Airport/Flight restrictions
  • Vessel current risk status based on port calls and crew changes
  • CRY4 predictive COVID Intelligence reports automatically generated from IMO number for entire fleet

COVID-19 Solutions (Landfall)

  • Landfall Historical COVID-19 Risk Assessments automated for all vessels
  • Editable Landfall Reports for crew changes to refine individual vessel risk assessments
  • Shareable and auditable for multiple users
  • Nationality-specific alerts to decide which crew can be embarked/disembarked where contingent on:
  • Port State Control

Access

  • 24 Hr access to real-time information
  • Unlimited Landfall and Risk reports generation
  • Daily report
  • Controlled sharing with access-logs and expiring links

Right now the solution is deployed with OSM Group across their fleet.

Greywing’s straight-forward licensing programme means that their subscription is per vessel and there are no upper limits on the number of users. This free flow access to the platform for anyone with an OSM email address has triggered an outlet of entrepreneurial thinking across parts of the business as diverse as quality management, security and tax.

On the ground operators within these business units have been reaching out to Greywing with their own ideas for innovation. Their ideas are clear cut, simple ways to utilise existing data within OSM to automate solutions to problems that challenge them every day.

OSM’s “bottom up” approach to innovation is in line with the latest thinking from Gary Hamel, a visiting professor at both Harvard & London Business School & a thought leader on Strategic Management.

In their analysis released in July 2020, Humanocracy, describing how to drive innovation within large organisations traditionally resistant to change, Hamel and Michele Zanini highlight a feature of a successful company as one “…of an organisational model that empowers and and equips every employee to be an inspired decision maker and a business-savvy decision maker.”

Our experience of working with thought leaders in the maritime industry is that heading into an uncertain future post COVID that they have laid the foundation to evolve through the crisis by enabling their employees to trigger innovation within their own domains, connecting them to Greywing to drive change through the clear cut application of technology.

That has been one of the peak experiences of working at Greywing; the opportunity to develop rapid solutions in the maritime risk & logistics space to mitigate risk for our partners.

We have optimised ship operators ability to identify places to conduct crew changes, removing many hours work and delivering viable options on demand.

There are at least two ways this solution could be better:

  1. If a Crew Manager finishes work at 1800 and at 1801 and then…
  • a flight is released on to GDS (the global database of bookable flights)
  • a Port State Controls maritime immigrations restriction changes
  • a countries airports immigration restrictions changes
  • A home states (where the on-signers are deploying from) immigration or flight restrictions change
  • If a vessels voyage plan changes unexpectedly invalidating the previous crew change options approved by the Crew Manager then the old Crew Change needs to be cancelled and new options need to be sourced immediately

… each event opening up a viable opportunity to action a crew change than that information will not be acted upon until the Crew Manager arrives at work the next day. Let’s say they arrive at 0800, that is 14 hours downtime when a viable option to conduct the crew change has not been actioned. That means flight ticket availability will have diminished and prices will be higher — if there are any tickets left at all.

  1. A new option for an existing Crew Change opens up. Within the parameters set by the client but after tickets have already been booked. This is an opportunity to further reduce the amount of money clients spend.

Greywing’s solution to this problem is to automate the process of booking marine travel tickets. Our vision is that Greywing is working in the background consistently searching for ways to optimise Crew Changes.

Our vision is that when a Crew Manager arrives at work they walk into the office and review a series of flight bookings for Crew Changes that Greywing has already made, cancel the ones that they disagree with or where plans have changed and most importantly — where they cancel the tickets, they cancel them at zero cost.

This gives clients the ability to instantly secure flights ahead of other buyers. It gives them the power to rely on an algorithm supported by machine learning to make the best decision for them as soon as it is possible to take that decision.

We estimate, given the state of air travel presently, this will save clients hundreds to over 1,000 dollars per flight booking.

During Hurricane Irma in 2017, flights increased by over 600% from US$ 547 to US$3,258 in the time it took people to search for available flight prices and then to click through to book the fare.

The issue was that the airlines pricing algorithms are designed to respond to spikes in demand by boosting prices. Our clients faced with technology designed to exploit human responses, have chosen to speed up their response with Greywing.

Greywing Landfall’s end goal is to get Seafarers tickets booked first. Our mission to find a viable route home and then to book tickets instantly, that are fully refundable, minimising any downside from booking the wrong flights, and maximises the upside of booking seafarers the lowest price tickets home.

It is the 2nd of May 2020 as I write this. We have been working on a solution since March 23rd; 40 days and 40 nights but we have not been doing it alone.

The willingness of clients, Ship Owners Associations and the Singapore Government to support the work we have been doing has been both incredible and humbling.

Greywing has been helped from the beginning by the Deep Tech Accelerator run by SG Innovate and Entrepreneur First since January 2019. We were delighted that Enterprise Singapore approved Greywing Landfall as a product they would subsidise for Small & Medium sized Enterprises to assist with their response to the COVID, sponsoring up to 80% of the cost.

Since the 23rd March 2020 we have been supported by a United Singapore Maritime Industry and some amazing clients, including OSM Group, and it would be remiss if we didn’t say; thank you for helping us make it happen.

Whether you have 10 Crew or 10,000 Crew: Greywing Landfall gets them home.