The Futurenauts: Tor E Svensen

The Futurenauts

As part of our mission to chart shipping and maritime’s technology-enabled future, we’re profiling some of the people shaping that future.


Tor E Svensen

There will be very few amongst you who don’t recognise Tor E. Svensen. As CEO of DNV GL Maritime, the biggest class society in the world, he occupies a key position in influencing how shipping embraces its technology-enabled future.

A maritime man through and through, Tor has a degree in naval architecture and shipbuilding, plus a Ph.D for good measure and has spent his professional life dedicated to the industry. A former Chairman of the IACS, he joined what was then DNV in 1993 and led the merger of DNV and GL in 2013.

Under his leadership DNV GL has outlined a vision of shipping’s future which leverages a range of new technologies to meet ambitious safety and sustainability goals. Both the Shipping 2020 report and the ambitious Future of Shipping report have demonstrated that it isn’t only data-centric start-ups that see the potential technology can offer shipping. It may have celebrated its 150th anniversary last year, but DNV GL’s innovation credentials are in no doubt.

DNV GL is one of the class societies really setting the agenda in terms of the technology-enabled future, and when I met Tor last year it was clear to me that energy comes from the top. I wanted to understand more about where he saw the future taking maritime, and why, so I’m delighted he agreed to become the first Futurenaut of 2015.
Here’s what he told us.

Futurenautics: DNV GL recently unveiled the Re‐Volt concept, an unmanned, short‐sea vessel powered by a 3,000 kWh battery. It’s designed to act as an inspiration to the industry. With the technology to make it a reality already available is inspiration the real problem in shipping?

Tor Svensen: DNV GL has been involved in many advanced joint development projects (JDP) within the maritime industry – so even though the industry faces many challenges, I don’t think a lack of inspiration is one of them. We launched concepts like Quantum and Triality and we have seen that many of the ideas have been adopted in new designs. Our reason for saying that the ReVolt concept is meant to serve as an inspiration to the maritime industry is of course that as a classification society, we don’t build ships. Both companies and governmental bodies have already made inquiries about the autonomous operation of the ReVolt.

Futurenautics: One of the ambitions DNV GL lays out in its Future of Shipping report is a reduction of 90% against current fatality rates. Technology has to play a massive part in that, but the industry views it as posing safety issues. Do we really appreciate just how bad our safety record is now?

Tor Svensen: We have seen over time a development towards almost zero tolerance towards serious accidents and large scale environmental damage. We have also seen a development where companies are increasingly concerned that accidents can have serious legal consequences and can cause long term damage to a company’s reputation. These external pressures have gone some way to drive safety improvements and we have seen a considerable improvement in safety in shipping over the past three decades, but the pure facts is that we have around 100 total losses of ships annually and close to an average of 2,000 passengers and crew die onboard ships due to accidents every year.

Autonomous, fully battery powered and highly efficient the “ReVolt” is the first example of a crewless concept ship from a classification society.

We also see large variations, for example general cargo vessels have an accident rate five times higher than offshore vessels. Advances in technology can help increase the safety of operations, but they are not enough. We as an industry need to take a more proactive approach to safety. This will include better accident investigations and learning from these, more focus on building a safety culture both onboard and ashore and introduction of improved safety barriers against large scale accidents. Navigational error is the basic cause of around half the serious accidents and incidents and this is an area that requires special focus going forward.

Futurenautics: You’ve just led a complex, large‐scale merger between two long established companies. How did you utilise technology to help you and what advice would you have for other leaders in a similar position?

A merger is not so much about technology, but more about people. However, an important element in bringing all staff quickly together in the new merged company was to bring everyone on to one IT platform so that we could start working together seamlessly and use the same tools and communication channels.

Futurenautics: In your Future of Shipping report you say that, “change begins with conversation.” How important is conversation with those external to the industry when it comes to driving change within shipping?

Tor Svensen: Different industries have valuable lessons to learn from each other and they can benefit from technological advances in other fields. Who would have thought for example, that old oil tankers could be used as mobile water filtration plants? Thanks to people from very different areas working together we now know, they can. At DNV GL we regularly set up work groups for developing extraordinary innovations – combining our expertise from our different business areas – maritime, oil and gas, energy, business assurance, and software. We want to help foster an open discussion within and beyond the maritime sector that helps the industry adapt to this rapidly changing world – facilitating a shift to more safety, lower fatality rates within shipping and greater efficiency in terms of energy consumption and vessel operations.

Futurenautics: As we enter Shipping 3.0 and digital operations drive transparency, cargo owners are increasingly going to need ships that are operated beyond compliance. Are we going to see a change in the dynamics of ship ownership and operation with cargo owners more involved? Should we?

Tor Svensen: New regulations, market pressures and an increased public demand for more transparency are affecting the dynamics of our industry. Cargo owners are under greater pressure to ensure that the shipping companies they work with run vessels that fulfil the highest standards of quality, safety and energy efficiency. I believe that we have seen a change over the past two decades that cargo owners take stronger interest and vetting of ships is just one such example. We have also seen that cargo owners have started their own shipping operations and apart from the pure business incentives, they also do this in order to be a more competent buyer of shipping services from others.

Futurenautics: When we talk to those disrupting the maritime industry we hear again and again how failure and iteration is essential to rapid development. Safety in maritime has always been about preventing failure at all costs. How do we build failure and iteration into the way we approach safety, whilst keeping people safe? Could that be the biggest opportunity of all?

Tor Svensen: The risk of failure is built into every human endeavour, because we can never account for every eventuality. The best way to avoid failure is to understand the risks and build adequate barriers against failure. We must also build mitigating barriers to reduce consequences in case of failure. Examples of such preventative and mitigating barriers can be two officers on the bridge in areas of heavy traffic, redundant propulsion system or two independent fire-fighting systems.

It is also very important to learn from the failures that we have and proper accident investigations and sharing of this information can help us all improve. Our business at DNV GL as a classification society has always been about the anticipation and management of risk. Advances in simulation software and computing power allow us to develop even more sophisticated models, where we can test the designs of ships and even their operation under very realistic conditions.

Futurenautics: There’s a saying that culture eats strategy for breakfast. You’ve been in the maritime industry a while, would it be correct to say we have a ‘mind-set’ problem? How do we encourage people to think in new ways?

Tor Svensen: I will not get into finger pointing as I believe that significant steps have been taken in improving safety in shipping over the past two to three decades. But, at the same time, public and societal expectations have also changed and today we have a near zero tolerance for accidents and loss of life. At the moment changes in shipping are still very much driven by new regulations or accidents.

The Reliever Bollman water treatment plant. "Who would have thought for example, that old oil tankers could be used as mobile water filtration plants? Thanks to people from very different areas working together we now know, they can."

The Reliever Bollman water treatment plant. “Who would have thought for example, that old oil tankers could be used as mobile water filtration plants? Thanks to people from very different areas working together we now know, they can.”

Encouraging the industry to change has to go hand in hand with demonstrating what opportunities the adjustments offer and how they can help strengthen a company’s position on the market. I would like to see safety considered an equally important element on the sustainability agenda as, for example, the environment. In my opinion, there are three elements that make up the “sustainability triangle” in shipping: Improved Safety, Sustained Profitability and Improved Environmental Footprint. These are all mutually dependent upon each other.

Futurenautics: The ‘Connected Ship’ is where we’re headed, but right now ship operators spend around 1% of their budgets on connectivity. As an industry should we consider that a threat or an opportunity?

Tor Svensen: The maritime industry could be making much more extensive use of data from a wide range of sources. For example, advanced software and monitoring systems that use Big Data can have a profound impact on the way ship operators and owners monitor the safety and performance of their vessels. At the moment Big Data is still proving to be a phenomenon that individual operators find difficult to use to their advantage, because information sources often have to be purchased and are challenging to interpret. DNV GL is working to collect, analyse and interpret Big Data to unlock its potential for customers.  We have developed several solutions to monitoring a vessels performance, such as the performance management portal ECO Insight and our ShipManager fleet management system. Both received positive feedback and a number of customers are already using them in order to adopt a more holistic approach to monitoring their fleet’s performance.

Futurenautics: We’re talking about safety and security this issue. With control systems increasingly software‐based will we inevitably move to a system of certification of such systems? Is last year’s acquisition of Marine Cybernetics an indication that DNV GL is looking to develop competency and first mover advantage in this area?

Tor Svensen: Most certainly, the decision to invest in Marine Cybernetics was driven by the increasing importance of software dependent systems in ensuring safe, reliable and efficient operations. We have now come to a point where we cannot rely on only testing and verifying hardware – there are an increasing number of incidents, many of them severe, caused by software- related issues. This could develop into a real weak spot in the way the offshore and marine industries work to ensure total system quality.

We must continue the development of the regimes that ensure the safety and stability of these systems. Software systems are now an integral part of safety critical barriers, but because of their modular, multi-party nature they are often not easily testable before installation and operation. We have been looking at this issue for some time and in 2010 developed our ISDS (Integrated Software Dependent Systems) standard. This is a class notation that is implemented during the software development process, rather than the finished product, to ensure that the integrated and stand-alone control-systems of a vessel perform reliably and safely.

Futurenautics: The Future of Shipping report outlines a scenario where States, charterers and NGOs begin to take a larger role in regulating international shipping, developing and enforcing more rigorous standards and rendering IMO obsolete by mid‐century. That was brave. Many in shipping find it inconceivable. What’s your view?

Tor Svensen: This was one of the scenarios, but not one that I believe will come through. I firmly believe in International regulations and in shipping, the IMO has the central role here. However, in today’s world, we must also accept that States, as well as cargo owners and perhaps also other interested parties, will take steps to protect their own interests as part of managing their exposure to risk. I therefore believe we will see a situation in the future whereby shipping is principally regulated through IMO when it comes to safety and environmental protection, but that we will have additional local regulations in these as well as other areas. It is therefore of utmost importance that IMO is proactive and stays relevant in order to minimize the amount of additional regulations from other parties.

Futurenautics: Which do you think are the most potentially disruptive digital businesses in maritime at the moment? What will be the next major technology disruption in shipping? Who will it most affect?

Tor_Svensen_Feat_2Tor Svensen: Connectivity and Big Data have the potential to transform the way the industry works, helping ship owners and operators significantly improve the performance of their fleet, increase the safety of their vessels, reduce operational costs and become more efficient. As the data sources are wide spread, expensive and difficult to analyse, the maritime industry hasn’t managed to tap into its full potential yet. DNV GL is working to implement Big Data approaches throughout its advisory services to offer companies anywhere in the maritime value chain valuable insights into their performance and help them make more informed business decisions – including ship operators and owners, port operators and authorities, insurance companies as well as commodity traders and maritime service providers.

Overall, technology on board vessels is rapidly catching up with that ashore and the slowly declining price of bandwidth is making it more attractive and affordable for operators to use SATCOM to harness that technology. We see a growing need for IT security standards, preventing hacking and fraud on a ship/shore IT network. And more fundamentally, making sure all the various IT systems are correctly integrated and robust. Complex and invisible system errors can have dramatic consequences for modern ships. The offshore industry is using our ISDS service, not least to avoid costly downtime in operation and project overruns in the newbuilding phase.

I also see that connectivity and smart sensors can help us drive safety forward through improved monitoring and control. I am not yet a believer in the unmanned ship, but I believe that intelligent use of smart sensors, software and connectivity can provide much improved operator guidance and thereby help avoiding human mistakes.

Futurenautics: If, as seems likely, shipping changes radically, what will you miss least, and what will you miss most?

Tor Svensen: As we drive safety improvement forward, what I will miss least is reading about new accidents. What I will miss most in a new digitised world where ships are owned and operated by large corporate organisations and viewed only as a necessary element in the logistics network is the people side and the people who have a passion for the sea, for designing and building ships and for operating these.

Futurenautics: You graduated and got your PhD from the University of Newcastle. Up there ‘class’ is another word for something really good. Are class societies a force for good? And if so how do they remain so when regulation and the digital world seem to be on a collision course?

Tor Svensen: Class has evolved with the industry. Most striking to us in DNV GL is how owners have pushed boundaries. For instance, mining companies seeking control of the entire supply chain are making infrastructure, shipping hubs, really, to accommodate bigger ships, and trading patterns that suit them. Cruise ships are getting bigger and more advanced, adding equipment that goes well beyond the traditional remit of class. And a majority of the industry has pursued ways of increasing fuel and energy efficiency, through growing in size (particularly bulk and container ships), optimizing design and retrofitting.


The MSC Oscar, with a nominal capacity of 19,224 teu is the largest containership afloat. It is classed by DNV GL

Class has taken an active role in facilitating all of this. In fact, we have more involvement with owners, yards and regulators as a result of this. We keep an eye on safety, applying our tool box for qualification of new technology and drawing on our risk-based assessments tool to effectively and formally address technology developments and out-of-the-box thinking that would not at all fit into a traditional, prescriptive set of rules. This is also evident in the increasing number of joint industry projects and joint development projects we participate in together with a growing spectrum of the industry, beyond simply operators and yards.

But, most importantly, I believe in a continued need for the independent role of Class: In the way the industry is regulated, the establishment of safety and construction standards and their oversight throughout the life of the vessel. Despite all the negative criticism the shipping industry receives, in which other industry can you build a complex ship based upon a relatively small specification, relying instead of a well proven set of technical rules for the construction of the vessel. And, in which other industry can you trade internationally to almost any port in the world, without individual permits for departure and arrival, relying instead entirely on the international certificates issued by the classification society?

Futurenautics: What was the last piece of technology—consumer, industrial or professional—which made you say “Wow!”?

Tor Svensen: Those who know me know that I can be a bit of a technology freak, so this is difficult. Maybe what has impressed me most during the past couple of years is the miniaturizing of sensors, processing power, etc. This is opening a whole new world in medicine as well as engineering.

Images credit ©DNV GL/MSC

This article appeared in the January 2015 issue of Futurenautics


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