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Vittoriosa firm to house Med’s first ‘public’ marine simulator

Marsec-Xl, the Vittoriosa-based marine software engineering firm, expects to reach an agreement before the end of the year to relocate one of the most ad­vanced simulators in the world from Norway. The simulator will be the first in the Mediterranean available to international crews, rather than to a single company’s in-house teams.

We mix software with water

Marsec-XL is currently seeking appropriate premises to house the sizable equipment and its servers.

The company, which has caught the attention of the international maritime circuit for significant advances in innovation but is little known locally, believes the software-intensive simulator could bring numerous economic benefits to Malta

The simulator’s technology is so advanced it is practically equipment-independent, meaning it can be used to train officers and sea men operating a range of vessels, particularly crews involved in high-risk operations on offshore specialised vessels.

The two-year-old simulator will be brought to Malta under a joint venture with its current owners, the Offshore Simulation Centre AS of Alesund. The Norwegian firm needs to make space at its facility for an even larger simulator.

Marsec-Xl is committed to building a comprehensive training facility around the simulator, which will also benefit from further software development that would broaden its scope to officers responsible for various vessels, including cruise liner captains.

Marsec-Xl – an acronym for Marine Software Engineering Cluster of Excellence – was established in Malta five years ago after president Krystyna Wojnarowicz and chief executive Geir Fagerhus identified the island as the “perfect” location for its mission to collaborate with various organisations and academia. They were particularly impressed with the national ICT policy and the standards at the University and the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology.

Importantly, 80 per cent of new superyachts visit Malta within two years, allowing them to examine the latest marine technology at work.

“From that perspective, we have a unique selling point here,” Ms Wojnarowicz told The Sunday Times. “We say we mix software with water. Here, we have also found highly qualified people to join our team as we tap opportunities in global software engineering.”

The president and chief executive fuse their professional backgrounds to lead a small team of expert Maltese staff. Ms Wojnarowicz is a management professional who specialises in continuous software process im­­provement; Mr Gagerhus studied physics and computing science and has worked with Motorola and Ericsson on software- intensive systems.

The Norwegian partners first worked to­gether to set up the first overseas campus of the Software Engineering Institute of Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University in Frankfurt. Both are mariners and divers with a range of licences to their name.

“The maritime industry has many peculiar attributes because it is an enormous industry which is very fragmented and composed mostly of localised SMEs,” Mr Gagerhus explained.

“It involves many challenges, including incompatibility.”

Soon after they set up their base at the Old Treasury in Vittoriosa, they began discussions with founding marine industry members in Malta to help them identify the necessary research to undertake. They found the industry required reference architecture – common middleware – on which experts from around the world could develop their systems. Marine technology had evolved from electronics to sophisticated software engineering.

A number of research projects were initiated with local talent, and academics and experts in Germany and Brazil.

Potential game changer

On February 14 last year, the collection of projects was donated to a community called Marssa (marine systems software architecture). More than 150 students and experts from across the world came on board in the first year alone and the project is marketed across the network and online.

The Maltese team at Marsec-Xl which spearhead it have been dubbed a “micro-multinational” by the European Commission. Marsec-Xl is confident it has the potential to be a game changer.

By moving marine systems away from boxed technology towards a ‘platform as a service’ design, a range of possibilities become reality. Under a particular standard, seamless, cloud-based communication and information flow will be possible between vessels, search and rescue units, and harbour and onshore authorities.

Heightened systems compatibility is at the forefront of the international maritime agenda, particularly as it is estimated that global ship traffic will increase by 45 per cent by 2020.

“If Marssa becomes a global open standard, not only would it create opportunities for innovation, products and services, but it also opens up the maritime market for the largest players, like Google and Microsoft. It creates a single point of entry,” Mr Gagerhus said.

“The International Maritime Organisation is considering a global standard for electronic navigation, and Marssa is a candidate. It would mean that every ship that is IMO-registered would have a specific e-navigation system on board that would make it compatible with onshore traffic control and any other floating object falling under the regulation. Incompatibility is a major cause of accidents.”

Meanwhile, Marssa is being showcased around the world. At a conference in San Francisco, a Linux Foundation director for embedded systems described it as “probably the most disruptive technology in the maritime industry since the steam engine”.

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