Putting sailors back in the spotlight

As posted by The Manila Times on March 29, 2023

YEARLY, the crewing industry moves some 1.8 million seafarers around the world. This accounts for 5 million crew changes to deploy and repatriate the workforce responsible for moving 90 percent of raw goods and materials in the world.

Crew change can be a sailor’s delight or dismay. A good crew change is well-planned with short layovers and is time and cost-efficient. However, this is not always the case. More often, it is a tedious process with long immigration processes and connecting flights.

For the tech group Tilla, this is not the treatment the “modern-day heroes” deserve. With a mission of “putting sailors back in the spotlight,” Tilla builds the needed groundwork to elevate the crew change experience of seafarers.

In an email exchange with The Manila Times, Tilla’s founders and managing directors Niklas Weidmann and Narayana Venkatesh shared that Tilla’s platform gives operators a better overview of flight and crew change port options so that they can choose the most convenient options within a budget.

The software primarily aims to “reduce the time spent on the crew change process,” which, according to the tech group, would allow operators to spend more time on more relevant matters to seafarers such as the welfare of the crew and their families.

“We’re already in the place to provide insights into certain aspects of crew changes that have an impact on well-being like the time between the arrival of flights and the ETD,” they said.

Using the software, organizations like Döhle Seafront Crewing (Manila) can consolidate and streamline manual and inefficient travel processes. In just a few clicks, crewing operators can easily book and edit flight details of their crew to accommodate abrupt changes in their travel with little to no help from a third-party travel agency or supplier, saving seafarers much valuable time and rest.

The manning agency inculcated Tilla’s technology in its crew change operations in February 2022, and for its Fleet Operations Manager Richard Forasteros, it made their process leaner and simpler and allowed them to find the most convenient travel arrangements for their crew in just a few clicks.

Forasteros said their typical crew change process begins with sending a request to a partner travel agency, who will then coordinate with a supplier or vendor. With Tilla, his team is directly connected with the vendors through a user-friendly dashboard that shows a list of preferred flight and travel schedules, from the most time efficient to the most cost-efficient.

“It also allows us to easily modify the menu depending on our crew’s needs or what the situation calls for,” he added.

Forasteros said that the platform could also access his organization’s crewing database, which allows for more accessible and safer handling of information. It saves them the time of manually extracting data from their system and the hefty email exchanges with travel agencies and suppliers.

Founded in 2021, the tech company combined the extensive shipping, travel, tech and venture-building expertise of its founders who both have years of successfully building startups and developing IT products and ventures under their belts.

Coming from a decade’s worth of experience developing tech and launching startups for land-based industries, Weidmann moved into maritime after realizing the opportunities he can help the industry improve through technology.

“I understand the critical role of shipping for global supply chains. The stories about seafarers being trapped on vessels during the Covid pandemic were the first time I got in touch with the concept of crew changes,” Weidmann said.

With a passion for building useful and smart software that positively impacts people’s work and life, as well as his high affinity for travel, he co-founded Tilla. The tech startup has since worked with the PD Group to collect insights to develop its software.

“We’ve been building Tilla together with [the] PD Group and have incorporated their feedback from the start, but we always make sure that we build a product that is catering to the global market,” Weidmann said.

The company made waves in Germany but it has explored the global market starting with clients linked with manning agencies and crewing operators in the Philippines.