Mercy Ships Sends Out Clear Signal of Hope With Intellian Technology

Ships of grace
Image courtesy Mercy Ships / Intellian

Posted on October 24, 2021 6:08 pm by

The maritime executive

Two years ago, Intellian a close collaboration with the international charity Mercy Ships. With its International Support Center (ISC) in Garden Valley, Texas, Mercy Ships has offices in the UK, West Africa, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Korea, France, Switzerland, Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium. Through its floating hospitals, the organization’s work spans a range of procedures including orthopedic, maxillofacial, ocular and reconstructive surgeries; Mental health services; Educational projects in health care; and palliative medicine.

Since its inception in 1978, Mercy Ships has provided free medical, physical and moral assistance to people in countries that rank in the bottom third of the World Health Organization’s Human Development Index. The organization has shown unwavering determination to eradicate poverty-related diseases.

Most of the time, such diseases should be relatively easy to prevent or treat, but the World Health Organization estimates that over 50 percent of the population in the poorest parts of Africa and Asia lack regular access to essential medicines and health care. With only about half of sub-Saharan African children vaccinated against childhood diseases, many die from preventable diseases such as diarrhea, measles, malaria and malnutrition-related causes. The work of Mercy Ships couldn’t be more important.

The pandemic was a devastating setback – a global catastrophe that only made extreme situations more catastrophic. However, the challenges of last year have only fueled Mercy Ships’ resolve, and Intellian Technologies is by their side every step of the way.

As of 2019, Mercy Ships successfully deployed an Intellian v240C C-Band VSAT solution on board its hospital ship Africa mercy. This has now been updated to one Intellian v240M 2 Dual-band, multi-orbit VSAT system with a connectivity solution from SES, “which was our preferred provider in the selection of antennas for” Global Mercy, the new ship from China, ”says Jonathan Dyson, Director of Enterprise Infrastructure at Mercy Ships.

“We wanted to make our installation future-proof. In the past we had rented the antenna from another provider. Now that we’re moving forward and custom building our ship, we’ve made the decision to own our antennas and switch providers, ”he said. “If we need an upgrade, downgrade, a change from GEO to MEO or even LEO constellations, we can do this with SES thanks to the antennas provided by Intellian.”

Seamless connectivity

Global Mercy, The new Mercy Ships ship is the largest civil hospital ship in the world. It can accommodate up to 950 people in the port, including 641 volunteer crew members, and its six operating rooms and medical wards are designed to treat 200 patients at a time. The company expects to more than double the current operations and training capacity of Mercy Ships. By the time the ship reaches its expected 50-year lifespan, more than 150,000 lives will be improved and saved through operations on the purpose-built hospital decks.

Global Mercy completed its deep-sea trials in May 2021, which included extensive testing to ensure engine performance, maneuverability and fuel economy are all on schedule. Safety assessments were also carried out, as well as a series of tests, to confirm that all equipment and systems on board are fully functional before the ship enters service in sub-Saharan Africa next year.

Global Mercy is equipped with dual 2.4 m Intellian v240MT 2 antennas, integrated and controlled by Intellians Intelligent Mediators, which guarantee seamless connectivity by switching between the antennas in case the superstructure of the ship ever blocks a satellite signal. Installation of the antennas was only completed a few weeks ago, and it was a concerted teamwork that overcame several logistical and cumbersome difficulties, Dyson recalls.

The 2.4m Intellian v240MT 2 antenna

“Intellian and SES worked together to install all of the hardware and take it out on the final sea test to make sure it worked. It was good that all these teams worked together positively and achieved this, ”he said.

Mercy Ships’ increased investment in Intellian hardware – upgraded the system to Africa mercy and installation of a world-class, orbitagnostic v240MT 2 dual antenna solution Global Mercy – directly reflects the company’s operational growth and the changing landscape of connectivity, according to Dave Shwadlenak, VP of IT at Mercy Ships.

“As Mercy Ships matures, there is an increasing need for us not to have on-premise servers and applications, and that is what drives a lot of our technology activities. Our technology stack is so diverse and so much in the cloud these days that it is problematic for us to have data centers on board the ships, ”said Shwadlenak. “One of the reasons for upgrading and moving to more bandwidth is the ability to communicate dynamically and instantly with our ships. We move a lot of data back and forth: a lot of our applications are in the cloud, so it’s important to be able to access them. In most countries we can get land connections, but the satellite is our lifeblood. It is our mainstay that we constantly rely on. “

“The work we do in the hospital and everything we do on board is centralized here at the ISC. Most of our servers are here or in the cloud, so this element of communication has become critical for us: Just because we have been able to upgrade that bandwidth can we switch to this technology, ”he added. “When I started it was only a few years ago that we had a 3 MHz tube with the satellite. It was impossible to do some of the things we do today. “

Essential communications

Global Mercy to be deployed in sub-Saharan Africa – Madagascar, Cameroon, Guinea, Senegal and Benin – in 2022. In addition to the vital medical support and reinforcement it will bring to these areas, it will also provide mentoring and training programs for local health professionals.

Satellite connectivity is at the heart of Mercy Ships’ work. It enables the smooth running of day-to-day operations, including critical communications with the sponsors and donors, whose contributions are key to Mercy Ships’ ongoing ambitions. It also enables teleconferencing applications for capacity building and distance training; sharing of images; diagnostic discussions with specialists based around the world; and the all-important connectivity for the crew’s wellbeing for accessing social media and surfing the web.

Dave Shwadlenak is under no illusions about the potentially catastrophic impact on the company’s capabilities if connectivity goes down. “It could be catastrophic, honestly. We could still operate, but only for a short time. For example, staff turnover is centralized here at the ISC so we would be forced to go back to a paper environment where we try to keep up with room registrations and so on. Our finance department would have difficulties, while the ability for trainees to remotely observe operations and learn from them would also not be available. Much of our work would be severely restricted or stopped entirely. “

Both Dave Shwadlenak and Jonathan Dyson unreservedly praise Intellian. “I am very, very satisfied with them,” emphasizes Shwadlenak. “To be honest, they worked wonderfully with us and helped us through many of our pitfalls. In China in particular, it was enormous what they achieved there. “

“Basically we needed letters of approval from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” explains Dyson, “but because of the travel restrictions it suddenly became a big problem to get people to do the installation on site. Intellian and SES worked very well together to come up with a plan. It was very much out of the process but from a customer service perspective it was great to just be able to rely on them and have a team from Shanghai that came down to build the system, put everything together and check and do it sure all the hardware was there when we couldn’t get anyone there. That was simply fantastic.”

“I’ve worked with a lot of different service providers,” adds Dyson, “to determine the cost of bandwidth per MB per month because we have to be financially responsible to our donors. So I’ve spoken to a variety of vendors, and all of them have recommended Intellian hardware. All of them. That speaks volumes about the quality of the devices, hardware, and products that Intellian offers. By investing responsibly in Intellian products, this partnership enables us to fulfill our mission and provide high quality access to secure operations. “

“I appreciated everyone I worked with from Intellian; they are all very professional. The partnership between SES and Intellian seems to be very strong from our point of view. So when we turn to SES we know it is handled by Intellian and it is transparent to us as a customer as it should be. Intellian’s customer service has been seamless from our point of view, ”he concluded.

This news is sponsored by Intellian.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.