Prioritising seafarers’ experience in fuel efficiency

Stolt Tankers promotes ‘unconscious’ fuel-saving behaviour on board

By Harriet Hunnisett-Johnson

In September 2023, shipping company Stolt Tankers launched a new project designed to tackle a common challenge with fuel efficiency initiatives: how to achieve fuel savings and reduce CO2 emissions without burdening seafarers with extra tasks?

It may seem counterintuitive – impossible even – for Stolt Tankers to expect to see significant fuel savings without changing the processes and tasks crew members undertake on board. But by working with behaviour change service Signol, the company pioneered a new approach which prioritised seafarers’ experience using sophisticated Internet of Things (IoT) data already collected on board.

The idea is simple: with the right information, support and feedback, crew members can almost unconsciously perform their usual day-to-day tasks in more fuel-efficient ways. In practice, it’s more complex, since ‘the right’ support requires a deep understanding of the context in which seafarers make decisions, and the ability to engage seafarers directly without adding pressure or micromanaging.

As a former seafarer myself, I know that the more we can reduce pressure and workload (particularly admin and reporting tasks) for crew members, the more opportunity we unlock to improve operational efficiency. This has long informed our thinking at Signol as we’ve rolled out previous initiatives at companies such as Cargill, Ridgebury Tankers and BSM.

By combining our own maritime expertise, behavioural science and existing processes and data on board these ships, we’ve been able to design a solution which ‘nudges’ seafarers to shift their operational behaviour wherever possible to save fuel and reduce emissions.

This enables seafarers to be passive participants in fuel efficiency initiatives; simply by reading an email (albeit one which has been carefully designed and contains crucial insights and feedback), crew members are playing their part in the initiative and are more likely to build up fuel-efficient behaviours.

In fact, previous projects have tended to reduce fuel consumption by 5-12%: an impressive amount considering this is achieved without new hardware implementation or new processes on board.

With Stolt Tankers, there was an additional way in which the project enabled seafarers to make this impact passively; the project broke new ground by harnessing the power of continuous monitoring data automatically collected through sensors on board.

Direct connection

Five of Stolt’s vessels are IoT-enabled and collect insights continuously and automatically through sensors connected directly into the ship’s power management and automation systems. This provides a comprehensive view of what the crew experiences on board.

Stolt’s IoT data reduced the manual input required by eliminating any extra data entry when measuring fuel efficiency. The IoT data also included a wider range of data points than noon reports and so provided better insights on the factors affecting whether or not crew members were able to implement emissions-reducing behaviours. This ensured that the measurements of individual crew members’ performance were fair, since they accounted for the wider context of the operational and external environment.

This depth of insights helped seafarers understand the impact of their actions on overall fuel consumption and CO2 emissions and easily see their progress, without needing to spend time trawling through masses of data.

As a result, crew members were enthusiastic about the fuel–saving initiative and saw it as a tool which supported and encouraged their efforts, rather than burdened them with tasks or pressure.

A crew member interviewed during the six-month project said: “It’s nice to see we are contributing and helping [the ship to] perform better and better. It’s a good, encouraging program.”

The enthusiasm and positivity about fuel savings was further supported due to Stolt’s decision to ‘reward’ each goal achieved with a charity donation.

Our project with Stolt shows that fuel efficiency initiatives don’t have to feel like a battle between management who care about the bottom line, and crew members who just want to get on with their daily work. It’s possible for fuel efficiency and decarbonisation to feel positive and engaging, and even improve the day-to-day experience of seafarers on board.

Harriet Hunnisett-Johnson is head of maritime at Signol.