A Dutch Nautilus member has invented a pioneering programme which aims to ease the burden for ships masters by making port administration easier.
Currently in development, PortForms, the brainchild of Henk Eijkenaar, is an app that automatically generates all the forms needed to enter a port, such as the International Maritime Organisation's (IMO) FAL forms and (non)-European port forms.
As a Chief Officer 30 years ago, Mr Eijkenaar was well aware of the large amount of forms a captain needed to complete before entering port. Years later, when he was a captain, he recognised that a lot of the data needed to fill in the forms was the same for every port and developed the programme for his own use. At the time he didn't realise the commercial value of such a time-saving tool.
When the IMO introduced the FAL forms and the EU brought in the 'single window' system, Mr Eijkenaar still found use for his labour-saving invention.
He says: 'After the IMO published the FAL forms I thought I would not need the programme anymore as all ports would be using the IMO FAL forms. Soon I found out that a lot of countries and ports still continue to use their own forms and when the EU came up with the so called "single window" system, I found that the FAL forms were out of use in Europe and even more forms emerged.'
Introduced in April 2019, the 'single window' system enables all information required by public authorities in connection with the arrival, stay and departure of ships, people and cargo, to be submitted electronically via a single portal - without duplication.
Mr Eijkenaar tried to bring his programme to the attention of the EU committee handling the 'single window' system, but the committee member he spoke with turned it down, convinced that 'single window' was the solution. 'Unfortunately, the contrary has been the case and there is no sign of any improvement,' says Mr Eijkenaar.
A year ago, he came across a programme that was doing the same thing as his but was far less developed. This encouraged him to see if his idea could be developed on a professional basis.
He approached Dutch company MaraSoft, which was already making software for the maintenance of ships. They were very interested in the programme and were willing to try to develop it for professional use on ships around the globe. It is hoped that the first version of PortForms will be released at the beginning of 2020.
The programme can be used offline, but it will have an online database which will be used to update the new port forms as they come. Using the database, the forms will be filled in automatically and only data specific to a certain form will need to be filled in manually.
'Static' data such as the vessel's name and dimensions, its IMO number and company details will be added automatically, while 'dynamic' data such as port details, crew and bonded stores will be added by hand. It will be possible to print the forms and send them by email.
Mr Eijkenaar says that as the development is costing a lot of money, he is currently looking for sponsors. 'As soon as the software is on the market, it will pay for itself as the software company will sell it to the shipping companies together with a maintenance fee,' he says.
'I am also busy trying to bring the programme to the attention of IMO, as a means to reduce the administrative burden.'