A a new automatic man overboard alert system to Reduce the loss of lives at sea

A disturbing number of man-overboard incidents occur every year in the maritime transport industry. Unfortunately, most of these incidents are fatal. The loss of many lives each year and associated costs rapidly call for a change.

SOS ((Multi-) Sensor Offshore Safety System) helps to reduce the loss of lives at sea. It is a new automatic man overboard alert system, which uses advanced integrated sensor technology to detect any person falling overboard in real time and immediately alarms the crew in such an event.

‘We want to make his dream come true’ – SOS team looks to honour Capt. Reidulf Maalen with roll out of unique MOB technology.

Cruise industry legend Capt. Reidulf Maalen passed away on 21 April. His death came as a company he co-founded, SOS Ltd, stands on the brink of releasing a unique system that aims to instantly detect Man Over Board (MOB) incidents, saving countless lives at sea. Here Maalen’s long-time colleague and business partner, Sverre Dokken, discusses his legacy, the breakthrough technology and an opportunity to transform safety at sea.

“He was an incredible man – a good friend, an inspiring colleague, and an absolute legend within the global cruise fraternity. To say that he’s missed is a huge understatement. His passing leaves a void. But he has a legacy that can help fill that.”

Sverre Dokken’s obvious emotion is matched by a sense of steely determination. The Co-founder of SOS, a Technical Doctor (in Remote Sensing) and serial entrepreneur, is paying tribute to a man he worked alongside for almost 15 years, Capt. Reidulf Maalen.

Maalen, a Norwegian native, died in April, triggering a wave of tributes for a man that was a pivotal figure in the rise of Crystal Cruises and, with his warm hospitality and reputation for caring for the crews on the many ships he sailed (both at Crystal and before that in Royal Viking Cruises), had a reputation as “the first gentleman of the seas”.

“His recognition throughout the industry was second to none,” Dokken comments, “and for all the right reasons. I think it’s fair to say he treated everyone, passengers and crew, almost as family and they responded with equal affection. His impact was immense. And, in a sense, it’s only just beginning.”

Bold ambition

Five years ago Dokken, Capt. Maalen and Jens Hjelmstad, a leading figure in the development of advanced sensor technology, came together to work on a new concept.

Capt. Maalen, as an experienced cruise captain, was passionate about ensuring optimal safety at sea, while Hjelmstad and Dokken had innovative ideas about how to utilize sensors to address potential incidents. Spurred on by the US Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act of 2010 – requiring vessels to ‘integrate technology that can be used for capturing images of passengers or detecting passengers who have fallen overboard, to the extent such technology is available’ – they got to work establishing SOS (multi Sensor Offshore Safety system).

“It was Reidulf’s opinion that ‘one life lost at sea was one life too many’ and that, in conjunction with increasing industry awareness and the work of organisations such as the Cruise Victims Association, helped give us the drive, faith and ambition to think ‘yes, we can address this issue – we can make a difference here’,” states Dokken.

With financial assistance from the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme for research the team got to work.

Unlocking progress

SOS has now created something unique. By interweaving a complementary array of advanced sensor technology (including their own proprietary LADAR solution – a compact laser ‘radar equivalent’ for close proximity surveillance) the team has created a game-changing detection solution that, protected by European patents, fully integrates with last year’s ISO/PAS 21195 standard for MOB incidents.

It is, Dokken states, the key to finally unlocking the 2010 safety act.

“The US act was very well intentioned,” he argues, “but has so far not achieved its aims due to a lack of adequate technology. SOS changes that. We believe this is the new standard that will redefine the MOB response for passenger transport, with the potential of rolling out throughout the entire maritime industry.”

Complete solution

In short, SOS gives the bridge team of Deck Officers and lookouts additional pairs of ‘eyes’ across the whole vessel perimeter and surrounding environment. It works to instantaneously detect a person – and only a person, not a case, container or piece of equipment – falling overboard, immediately alerting the bridge to ensure no time is lost in the response.

The unique configuration of sensors then gives the shipmaster a 360-degree overview of the surrounding environment, with an extended range of up to 2000m towards the aft of the vessel to enable exact pinpointing of the MOB for rescue.

The combination of complementary technologies means the solution is also ‘weather proof’ (as some sensors are optimized for different light and weather conditions) to give accurate feedback regardless of environmental conditions (working effectively in extreme conditions such as those in the arctic).

“It is the first truly complete system of its kind,” Dokken says. “It is cost-effective, supremely reliable in its detection capabilities and, with seamless integration into vessel bridges and platform control rooms, easy to install, use and benefit from.”

And those benefits are delivered not just through situational awareness, he adds.

“Search and rescue operations are notoriously expensive, especially when moving further away from coastal infrastructure, so those costs, as well as the disruptions to planned services, can be completely avoided. What’s more there’s the reputational issue, particularly with regards to the Cruise industry and the additional focus it is receiving as fleets, routes and competition grow across different segments.”

He continues: “What does it say about a cruise brand if they install this kind of transformational system – a system that will give their valued passengers a ‘virtual safety net’ and real peace of mind? And what does it communicate if they do not, while rival brands do? This is a key consideration in today’s market.”

Market opportunity

SOS technology has been rigorously tested and is approaching the stage of commercialization. Dokken says the company is looking for a partner, or partners, to help take the business to the next level.

“We have the solution the industry has been crying out for,” he says. “We are technologists rather than marketers though, so ideally it’d be beneficial to have a new business associate that could assist in realising this vision. This will transform MOB standards, simple as that, and the quicker it happens the more lives will be saved.”

Although his friend won’t be around to witness that transformation, Dokken believes his spirit will live on in every life that is saved.

“Reidulf had an expression when he used to address vessel crews and passengers over the public address system,” he concludes.



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