The marine industry through the eyes of a veteran

Having spent over 40 years at Wärtsilä, Fred Danska has seen it all. We asked him what he thought about the changes that have taken place in the marine industry over the past four decades, and how he foresees it all turning out. Read on to know more.

Having spent over 40 years at Wärtsilä, Fred Danska has seen it all. We asked him what he thought about the changes that have taken place in the marine industry over the past four decades, and how he foresees it all turning out. Read on to know more.

Fred Danska has had many firsts in his long career at Wärtsilä. As a marketing manager at the Helsinki shipyard, he created Wärtsilä’s first customer database using a Wang word processor. Then, in the 90s, he created the company’ first CRM system using Microsoft Access. This and other innovative programs shows in Danska an instinct to always be at the cutting-edge of technology, using it to improve efficiencies and ultimately, the bottom-line. Little wonder then that he is today the Director – Cruise Business at Wärtsilä.

Danska is especially proud of his role in growing Wärtsilä’s engine market for cruise ships, which grew to about 80% market share in the 90s.

Changing with the times

As someone who always has his eye on trends in the industry, Danska has witnessed first-hand the technological and regulatory changes sweeping the marine industry. Of these, it is the environmental changes that he feels have had the most profound impact, both on business models and also the industry’s way of thinking.

“Shipping has remained a fairly conservative and constant business and seldom has more than one new innovation been introduced on a new ship,” explains Danska. “However, changing environmental regulations have definitely been something we have had to plan for and tackle. It has changed the game, so to speak.”

On 1 January, 2020, the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) global sulphur cap of 0.5% will come into effect putting pressure on the shipping industry to conform existing and future technology to meet requirements. This will have a major impact on the entire maritime industry with ship owners scrambling to upgrade their fleets to ensure they are compliant. The cruise industry, says Danska, is no exception although they have been early adapters of environmentally friendly operation.

“Among all the different marine segments, the cruise industry has gone on to bigger ships to allow for more passengers. The growth has been consistent and shows no signs of slowing down,” he explains.

“Naturally, cruise ship operators are trying to ensure that their vessels are as environment-friendly as possible.”

In the cruise business, these changes have been happening at a time of growth. There has been a steady increase in the passenger capacity of the cruise ship industry with bigger and bigger ships on order. Revenues have increased too, rising to USD 35.5 billion in 2016 from USD 23.3 billion in 2007. The focus on sustainability has never been greater.

“Sustainable tourism has been named one of the greatest challenges facing the cruise industry,” says Danska. “At Wärtsilä, we have been working on a host of solutions to accomplish this including the Wärtsilä 31DF engine, our LNG solutions, our waste-to-energy solutions and recycling systems. I have always believed that technology is key for all of this.”

The need for a smart marine ecosystem

This, says Danska, fits in with Wärtsilä’s purpose of using smart technology to enable sustainable societies. He also calls for the industry to come together to tackle sustainability issues by sharing knowledge, technology and know-how.

“This drive towards a zero-emissions industry cannot be carried forward by one organisation alone. It requires the cooperation of all stakeholders,” he adds.

While environmental regulations are one part of it, achieving operational efficiency and boosting profitability is the crucial next stage. The three areas that see the highest amount of waste in terms of operational efficiency, according to Wärtsilä,  are overcapacity, inadequate port-to-port fuel efficiency and waiting time associated with entering ports and high traffic areas.

Wärtsilä’s SEA20 and ‘An Oceanic Awakening’ is an attempt to lead the industry towards this goal, using digitalisation and collaboration between all stakeholders to build a smart marine ecosystem. The importance of digitalisation, says Danska, cannot be overstated. With the changing technology landscape, it will soon be possible for the cruise industry to be run on an entirely smart ecosystem.

The use of big data analytics in the marine industry is expected to help vessels attain greater operational efficiency and improved levels of energy management. Intelligent vessels with fully automated processes and smart ports or marine-centric innovation hubs are other visions that Wärtsilä sees as the future of the marine ecosystem.

“These are areas where the smart marine ecosystem will also benefit the cruise industry, although it is too early in my mind to say to what extent,” says Danska. “One example could be the bunkering process for fuel and especially LNG. On the closer horizon, the benefits will likely be seen on merchant vessels first.”

As technologies and processes develop, he believes that Wärtsilä will play a key role in spearheading the industry’s transformation. One that will be spurred by the rapid pace of development taking place.

“During the ‘diesel era’ innovation was perhaps slow because the R&D work, testing of products and verifying took many years. Today we have products that have a much shorter development cycle” he explains. “I see Wärtsilä getting more committed to sustainable future of the society and developing both the products and operations to reflect this commitment.”

Written by
Lakshmi Sivadas