Shipping is big business. And like many industries — especially ones we may not have believed could find themselves in such high levels of turmoil before the coronavirus outbreak — the spread of COVID-19 affects global ports in ways that could present very concerning circumstances.
“Things are so dynamic in a maritime environment,” says Corey Ranslem, CEO of IMSA (International Maritime Security Associates). IMSA’s ARMS (Automated Risk Management Solution) software platform, a logistics-focused risk-management solution for mariners Hype covered in 2017, today claims the distinction of being the only shipboard platform that currently provides live, real-time tracking of the COVID-19 coronavirus for mariners.
ARMS operates exclusively through the Microsoft Surface Pro tablet from a ship’s bridge. It connects to satellites to provide critical information to shipping crews. With updates every 10 minutes, the platform gives mariners up-to-date information, helping them make better decisions protecting their crews, passengers and cargo worldwide.
It has traditionally shared details on somewhat expected issues, such as port delays, closures, and severe weather information, letting crews know the types of vessels that can get into certain locations based on what’s happening in those areas. Yet it also provides warnings of pirate-related incidents, migrant issues, epidemics and disease outbreaks, and quarantines, which brings us to today.
When the COVID-19 outbreak started, Ranslem says, they were already tracking it as part of the information available within the platform. He says it’s not just giving insights into the spread of the coronavirus from Asia to the rest of the world, but also the wider effects it’s having on the maritime industry.
Ranslem says those are details they’d never used ARMS to look at before, because they didn’t fall into normal categories such as weather, civil unrest and more. When reached by phone from the company’s South Florida office (their operations center is located in Chattanooga, taking advantage of the city’s “Gig” fiber optic internet) Ranslem admitted that the information he receives from ARMS is fascinating.
“I’m looking at the data live through my interface on my desk,” Ranslem says. “I’m amazed by the changes happening and all the restrictions in travel around the world — who’s restricted to go where and do what. This country has closed its borders to that company. If you have this nationality on your vessel, you can’t go to this country. I’m amazed at how quickly it’s changing.”
According to the United Nations, more than 90 percent of the world’s trade is carried by sea. That makes shipping an essential part of the global economy, although for now, Ranslem says, cargo hasn’t been seriously affected. Ports are open and ships are still moving, and trade coming from China has returned to normal since the disease was said to have peaked recently on the mainland.
Travel, on the other hand, is much more restricted at the moment. Cruise ships are not moving, and some that were already moving are now stranded at sea, unable to dock at various ports due to travelers aboard the vessels who are believed to be carrying the coronavirus. Some places, such as the British Virgin Islands, have closed their ports until further notice to all international travelers.
Whether those travelers are yacht owners or cruise ship customers, Ranslem says that the hourly updated ARMS software can give the fastest answer on whether or not it’s worth attempting to sail over currently troubled waters. For tourists, the answer is probably obvious.
These capabilities have helped IMSA raise more than $300,000 in the past three years. Ranslem says the company looks to raise btwn $500,000 and $1 million this year.
Pricing for the software, which can be broken up into annual or quarterly payments, is $6,500 per year, and Ranslem says IMSA is considering different pricing plans based on customer need. He also says as ARMS begins running on other mobile devices and crews won’t need to have their own hardware, the cost will lower.
Also in the plans for 2020 is cybersecurity, specifically monitoring floating vessels’ networks. And Ranslem also expects ARMS to integrate environmental information into the platform this year, such as where ballast water can be dumped, based on environmental regulations.
For now, Ranslem simply wants to let clients and potential customers know that the information is out there, and it could be beneficial for anybody mapping out their plans to sail across any body of water, whether they’re carrying people looking for vacation getaways or cargo that’s replenishing shelves at your local Southern grocery store.
“It’s a pretty dynamic story,” Ranslem says, “and it’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out over the weeks and months.”