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University relations

Group Technology and Research collaborates with 10 universities across the world. This includes sponsoring professorships and PhD students. 

One of the partnerships is with the Maritime Safety Research Centre (MSRC) at the University of Strathclyde in the UK. 

The MSRC was established in 2016 by the University of Strathclyde, and DNV and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCCL) are both providing sponsorship to finance its operations and research activities.

Maritime safety has and never will be the sole province of one organisation and it is generally through collaborative research and projects that the most important advances are made. DNV Group Technology and Research spoke with Professor Gerasimos Theotokatos, Director of the Maritime Safety Research Centre and the DNV Professor of Safety of Marine Systems, to gain insight into his views on the partnership and how research can help improve maritime safety. 

As a classification society entrusted with investigating and approving assets, equipment, services and concepts, DNV has extensive resources of its own and is a global leader in many fields. Even so it recognises the importance of partnerships and is extensively involved in a number of research cooperation agreements.

One of these is with the Maritime Safety Research Centre (MSRC), established in 2016 by the University of Strathclyde. DNV and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCCL) are both providing sponsorship to finance the MSRC operations and research activities. DNV also provides much of the essential industry experience that ensures the academic research is relevant and likely to prove beneficial to both its clients and the wider shipping industry. The support that DNV provides has allowed the MSRC to expand its research team and explore innovative research areas.  Professor Gerasimos Theotokatos, Director of the Maritime Safety Research Centre (MSRC) of the University of Strathclyde, is the DNV Professor of Safety of Marine Systems and in his role as Director provides leadership to the MSRC, which comprises two units; the Marine Systems Unit, led by Prof. Theotokatos, and the Maritime Operations Unit, led by Prof. Boulougouris.  According to Prof. Theotokatos, the vision of the MSRC is to shape the future of maritime safety by supporting the development and nurturing the implementation of a modern lifecycle risk management framework, leading to sustainable and cost-effective safety improvements. 

Expanding research 

Highlighting the results of sponsorship and collaboration with partners, Prof. Theotokatos comments, “When I joined the MSRC in July 2017, there were just four people in the team, now we are over 30 people, so we have grown a lot over the past four years. We have managed to secure more than €8M in research funding and that has allowed us to expand. Currently, we are running 14 ongoing research projects, which is a huge achievement considering the short period that the MCRS has been in operation.”  He continues, “Our research spans a wide range of topics covering both design and operational aspects of marine assets. For example, we cover autonomous ships and cyber-physical systems where physical components are computer controlled. We also cover traditional safety areas such as collision, stability, flooding, evacuation, safety management systems, and ships’ modular design, among other things. Our research portfolio is wide and this has obviously led to the expansion of the MSRC. To date, our expansion and projects have led to an output of over 60 journal publications, attracting significant interest from the industry, and the organisation of a number of conferences and events with a focus on enhancing maritime safety.”

Systems complexity jeopardising safety 

One example of the work being undertaken is a PhD thesis which looked at cyber-physical systems safety but from a wider perspective and considered how the growing complexity of systems could present new challenges, leading to unpredictable system behaviour and thus jeopardising safety. The subjects chosen for this work were the diesel-electric propulsion system and the power plant alternatives of a modern cruise ship, as well as an open loop exhaust gas scrubber system. 

Using a range of scientific analytical tools, a detailed Fault Tree was developed that captures the effects of both the physical components/subsystems and the software functions’ failures. The study demonstrated that the developed method led to the prediction of the top system events failure rates and provided a more detailed and complete Fault Tree compared to previous studies. It also demonstrated that the increase of the propulsion system reliability/availability does not always result in the system blackout frequency reduction. Potentially, this new safety analysis method could be integrated with sensor measurements to provide pre-warning of possible failures to the ship’s crew. 

The thesis includes a chapter on ‘automated blackout monitoring system development’, which resulted in third prize being awarded to the PhD student Victor Bolbot in the prestigious TRA Visions 2020 Young Researcher Competition. 

Prof. Theotokatos says research work in this area is important as it responds to the industry demands. “It also gives us the tools and scientific methods to address the safety of modern, next-generation cyber-physical systems, which are obviously the future of the industry, and will lead to the development of autonomous vessels,” says Prof. Theotokatos. 

Cyber-physical systems safety study 

One of the research papers published earlier this year as an outcome of the preceding PhD thesis, – “A novel method for safety analysis of cyber-physical systems – application to a ship exhaust gas scrubber system” – has particular resonance in the early days of the IMO’s new SOx restrictions. This study describes the methodology developed for the safety analysis of complex cyber-physical systems, focusing on the case study of an open-loop scrubber system. This paper was published jointly by the MSRC and DNV. 

Although an open-loop scrubber was chosen for this investigation, the formulated methodology can also be applied to other complex systems. It is expected that the proposed methodology will constitute a valuable tool for safety analysis during the initial design phases and support safe systems operation. 

Developing modern safety assessment methods 

The research work has also resulted in the MSRC participating in the EU-funded AUTOSHIP project aimed at building and testing two full-scale autonomous vessels. “Our work in this project will focus on modern safety assessment, to identify the gaps and provide improvements in the existing framework and employed methods. We believe our contribution will further drive the development of the MSRC as autonomous ships will continue to be in the spotlight in the years ahead,” adds Prof. Theotokatos. 

Looking ahead, Prof. Theotokatos has a vision to further expand the MSRC, rendering it an internationally recognised centre. “We have a long-term vision, and in order to accomplish it, we will try to make the best use of the sponsors funds to build up efficient teams and deliver results – and this is what we’ve demonstrated so far. Certainly, relationships with sponsors like DNV have greatly assisted us in gaining a certain status and now it’s up to us to continue working towards the sustainability of the MSRC.” 

Prof. Theotokatos believes the maritime industry and society at large face “immense challenges that need to be addressed, and our aim as academics and researchers working with industry is to manage and contain those challenges. We need to get to the point where there are zero accidents, zero emissions, zero pollution, and make the industry more sustainable in order to meet stakeholders’ and society’s expectations. More collaboration, research and innovation will be important and that’s core to the MSRC’s strategy and research activities,” he concluded.