Seafarers in the remotest locations could soon be using the Internet to keep in touch with friends, family and a wealth of educational opportunities.
Technology developed at the University of Wales Cardiff can compress Internet signals and reduce the cost of using satellite links from ship to shore.
The research stemmed from a Pounds 30,000 grant from the International Transport Workers' Federation with the limited brief of examining how the Internet could help seafarers to keep in touch with their families and other seafarers. "We quickly realised the educational potential that was here to be opened up for seafarers,'' said Tony Davies, head of the Cardiff-based Seafarers' International Research Centre.
For about Pounds 160 the Cardiff researchers can add a small camera to a PC and equip it to transmit slow scan pictures along with text. Apart from allowing seafarers to see who they are talking to while exchanging messages, this offers a tremendous training potential according to Professor Davies.
It could help seafarers acquire professional qualifications leading to a well-paid executive position ashore. Through the Internet, Cardiff will offer modules leading to entry into such bodies as the Chartered Institute of Transport. Students at sea will be able to talk to tutors and other students anywhere in the world, fostering a campus mentality.
The shipping companies and unions are enthusiastic and trials are scheduled to start early next year. Cardiff is establishing links with similar university centres around the world and could eventually become the hub of a "University of the Sea".