More shipowners use video cameras for security, safety and operations


Video cameras are everywhere these days. Their use in businesses, shopping malls and homes came first. Municipalities only began deploying their own surveillance cameras in modest numbers in the early 2000s. Now, some cities boast of thousands of cameras.

With that as a reality, it’s not surprising that video surveillance has gone shipboard. Smaller installations have been popular with pleasure boat owners for years as a means of reducing theft and vandalism. But mariners who work for a living have found the technology can contribute to security, help ward off lawsuits, provide insights for faraway managers and generally provide “extra eyes” to keep operations running smoothly.

“Advances in technology have provided cost-effective surveillance solutions for shipboard surveillance,” said Dana Varga, marketing manager at CohuHD Costar, a Poway, Calif., maker of surveillance gear. Better lens technology, high-definition video and analytics allow cameras to provide better visibility with lower investment, she said. And the ability to transmit to data networks provides flexibility, allowing cameras to integrate and operate to meet the application’s demands. 

“We had video that was linked to our own base and it was very helpful for documenting what we were doing on salvage operations at any given time,” said Capt. Mike Moran, a professional mariner for 25 years and a commercial captain for over 20 years. Now the principal of MM Maritime Consulting LLC in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Moran had his first exposure to shipboard video systems a few years ago when he was working for Resolve Maritime Group, a salvage company. 

“At the time we had five cameras on board and one of the things that was helpful about it was that we could use it to watch the tow rope without having to have someone stay out and stay exposed,” he said.

Additionally, on-vessel video systems have become an additional collision avoidance asset. Moran acknowledges that some mariners are probably uncomfortable having someone “looking over their shoulders” as they do their work. However, more organizations simply want to be able to literally “provide a snapshot” of what is going on for clients and customers. “We never encountered a problem with being micromanaged, but video certainly has that potential,” he added.

What kind of maritime customers adopt video surveillance and why?

Varga’s company has sold cameras for many years in both the military and maritime market with primary uses that include security, navigation, situational awareness, safety and process monitoring. “Cameras are used at ports, on board ships and on buoys,” she said. Onboard cameras also monitor operations on deck and below for safety, training and security.

Similarly, research and enforcement vessels have harnessed video for verification and tabulation of species related to compliance and conservation of fisheries. On the commercial side, Varga said cargo and cruise ships, ferries, dredges and barges all utilize cameras for monitoring operations, navigation and safety. 

“Cameras are used for passenger safety as well as guidance for cranes and equipment, dock safety and security,” Varga explained. CohuHD Costar cameras are the approved and implemented choice for the Washington State Ferries system to “provide passenger safety, security and operational improvements.”

Camera surveillance is used locally to provide incident response, safety and security, as well as to provide reporting and training information to governing organizations. Surveillance video is used to provide guidance in process improvements to increase efficiency and minimize risks in addition to reducing theft and security risks, she said.

“Video surveillance mitigates risk by improving safety while reducing theft and loss,” said Varga. “Organizations must consider the cost of injuries, losses or inefficiencies if they do not use video surveillance.”

When determining a budget for video surveillance, the equipment cost is just one part of the equation; network, power supply and mounting locations are other factors. 

It is important to consider the durability of cameras, she said. The cost of a camera failure is not only the cost of the equipment but also lost productivity, maintenance expenses and potential loss in protection.

Video surveillance is growing rapidly, primarily because new IP technology makes it easier to share video with more users, said Anthony Incorvati, business development manager for critical infrastructure and transportation for Axis Communications, a network camera manufacturer.    

There was a time when the focus was primarily on security. However, because of the high quality, low cost and ability to distribute widely, video is now being used more widely, Incorvati said. In his view, cargo has been the one sub-segment within the maritime market that has been a late adopter. Although cargo vessels still don’t have many cameras, according to Incorvati, they soon will.

New cruise ships are being built with anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 cameras. “Think about everything that’s on a cruise ship,” Incorvati said. “Casinos, hotels, restaurants, operations areas, open decks, changing light and weather conditions — no wonder they are so widely used.” Ferries have also come in for substantial installations. “I am aware of one port authority that now has 200 to 300 cameras on each vessel,” he said.

The fact that passengers represent a potentially very litigious cargo gives cameras on passenger vessels a special role. “The risk-management people now rely on cameras to reduce false claims,” Incorvati said.

It isn’t just numbers of cameras that make modern systems viable, it is automation and analytics. “With that many cameras, the monitoring process by humans is limited,” Incorvati said. Instead, practitioners identify key areas for attention. Increasingly, sensors and triggers help to drive where the cameras place their attention. Ultimately, most systems are now intelligent enough to trigger an alarm or even dispatch someone to an area where anomalous behavior occurs.

Although a “home office” can choose to monitor shipboard activity, practical considerations generally limit the practice. Even with very efficient transmission, beaming a video stream via satellite is a fairly expensive endeavor. However, Incorvati said, analytics — sometimes even at the level of the camera itself — can identify the most relevant bits of video and that could be shared beyond the vessel. His own company, Axis, has a technology called Zipstream, which analyzes and optimizes the network camera’s video stream in real time, making “sharing” more practical.

If video surveillance is installed, it would be a vessel or company requirement to mitigate vulnerabilities identified in the Ship Security Assessment, said Alana Ingram, public affairs officer at U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters. “Neither the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) nor the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 (MTSA) require surveillance.” If video is used, surveillance systems “must function as designed and be included in the vessel’s security plan (VSP)” and planned maintenance system (PMS) schedules. Other relevant regulations include: 

• ISPS Code Part B 9.42: The ship should have the capability to monitor the ship, the restricted areas on board and areas surrounding the ship. Such monitoring capabilities may include use of lighting; watchkeepers, security guards and deck watches, including patrols; and automatic intrusion-detection and surveillance equipment.

• MTSA 33CFR 104.285 (1): The vessel owner or operator must ensure the implementation of security measures and have the capability to continuously monitor, through a combination of lighting, watchkeepers, security guards, deck watches, waterborne patrols, automatic intrusion-detection devices or surveillance equipment as specified in their approved vessel security plan, the vessel, restricted areas on board the vessel and area surrounding the vessel. 

Ultimately, video “at sea” may not be for everyone, but the trends seem clear. And, as Moran notes, “It is kind of like the black box on an airplane that everyone now accepts; when accidents occur, it makes it easier to justify actions and to determine what actually happened.”

By Professional Mariner Staff