Automatic identification system (AIS) data optimises decision making in many aspects of maritime operations
AIS is the base source of intelligence in maritime ecosystems, whether it is tracking vessels, trades or improving port operations and creating business opportunities through data analytics.
Experts in vessel tracking, port operations and maritime informatics discussed its applications during Riviera Maritime Media’s Vessel optimisation: how AIS optimises decision making webinar. This event, sponsored by exactEarth, was held on 26 May during Riviera’s Vessel Optimisation Webinar Week.
On the panel were Chalmers University of Technology senior strategic research advisor and Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE) adjunct professor in maritime informatics Mikael Lind, HawkEye 360 director of strategy Kevin Moyer, Unikie business development and ecosystems director Jouni Salo and exactEarth president, chief executive and director Peter Mabson.
Dr Lind set the scene by explaining how AIS is unique in providing information in the public domain about vessel movements worldwide. He also introduced maritime informatics for processing AIS using digital collaboration, data sharing for decision-making and data analytics.
An example was using AIS when the Suez Canal was blocked by 20,000-TEU container ship Ever Given in March 2021, resulting in hundreds of vessels waiting to use the maritime shortcut across Egypt.
“We can try to understand the maritime operations and how the blockage led to a build up [of vessels],” said Dr Lind. “We need better predictability as we have choke points and congestion zones worldwide.”
He said AIS can be used to implement just-in-time (JIT) arrival of ships at ports. “AIS is the foundation for decision making in the maritime ecosystem,” he added.
Mr Salo took this idea further as AIS information can be shared with port service providers and vessel traffic services (VTS) for port flow optimisation (Unikie’s Polo) – to streamline operations through one interface of secure information flow between vessels and all port actors.
“We are working with VTS for a port ecosystem, for a view on the situation and status of ships and operations,” said Mr Salo.
“These are virtual operations rooms open to each player through a community application, for sharing information between entities.” This application will be available through any digital media device for use by terminal and port operators, vessel owners, ship agents, pilots, tug owners, VTS and linesman services.
“The virtual operation room for port operations replaces complicated and manual port flow processes with automated and digitalised processes that utilise internet of things, machine-to-machine communications, modern integration and artificial intelligence technologies,” said Mr Salo.
“It creates one centralised place for up-to-date situational awareness data, offering full visibility over the whole port operation process and schedules.” Unikie’s Polo integrates existing systems and data sources, both public and private, for a port community application.
Mr Mabson explained how AIS data is sourced through satellites, including 65 in low Earth orbit operated by Iridium. These provide global coverage through a mesh network for real-time detection of vessels.
More than 600,000 vessels send out AIS signals a month and exactEarth detects AIS from around 250,000 vessels per day. “AIS is powerful crowd-sourced data at sea,” said Mr Mabson. “There are huge amounts of underlying data – the sky is the limit for the applications.”
AIS data enables vessels to be tracked, trade through applications and fuse with other data sources.
“We are entering a golden age for data analytics in maritime,” said Mr Mabson. “AIS will be the source of other capabilities and other tool sets. These tools are getting faster, and people will find more things to do with the data.”
AIS is already used for surveillance and security, vessel operations and safety, logistics, fisheries management, ocean environmental management, vessel performance monitoring and risk management.
Mr Moyer explained how vessels can continue to be tracked even when they switch off their AIS. HawkEye 360 detects ships through its radio frequencies (RF) transmissions.
“We complement AIS with detection of non-co-operative vessels that are still emitting radar and radio,” said Mr Moyer. “We can geolocate these vessels, analyse these signals and extract intelligence from this.”
For example, HawkEye 360 detected Chinese fishing vessels that had switched off AIS and were heading into protected waters around the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean.
Mr Moyer said detecting these dark vessels will reduce illegal maritime activity. “Through data analytics and risk analysis we will solve more issues, resulting in less pollution and less malicious and unwanted actions – we are making it harder for bad actors to get away with it,” Mr Moyer said.
Attendees of the webinar provided a rich seam of data for analysis through a series of poll questions. They were asked which type of AIS data they primarily use, for which 24% said terrestrial, satellite and vessel-based, 22% use terrestrial and satellite, 20% vessel-based transponders (V-AIS or dynamic AIS), 18% satellite AIS and 16% terrestrial only.
They were then asked what their primary use of AIS data was. Half of the delegates said AIS was used for maritime surveillance applications, 31% for fleet management applications including route optimisation, 8% for commodity flow analytics or logistics applications, 6% for fisheries applications and 5% for environmental and vessel emissions monitoring.
Attendees were also asked for their major AIS data requirements. Of those who responded, 31% said updating the frequency of vessel identification and location, 23% said vessel population detection, 21% voted for complete data for all AIS message types detected, 13% wanted data latency (how quickly this information is provided) and 12% said flexible data delivery methods.
Delegates were then asked their view on their satisfaction on the level of maritime situational awareness they got from AIS. 15% were very satisfied, 61% somewhat satisfied, 18% somewhat dissatisfied and 6% very dissatisfied.
There were asked if they agreed with two statements. The first was: the greatest benefit of a shift from co-ordinating based on physical appearance to co-ordination based on forecasted (virtual) arrivals is seamless integration of the maritime supply chain. 5% strongly disagreed, 6% disagreed, 61% agreed and 28% strongly agreed.
The second statement was: AIS data is the key data stream for insights on other operations. Other data streams are essentially non-competitive and do not need the same level of protection. 3% strongly disagreed, 52% disagreed, 41% agreed and 4% strongly agreed.
Two other poll questions covered viewpoints on monetary value and investment.
When asked, How does your business quantify the risk of vessels you own or insure violating Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctions? 88% said they were not applicable, but 4% said US$100,000/year, 4% US$1,000,000/year and 4% US$10,000,000/year.
When asked: If you could receive additional information that allowed you to monitor all dark (no AIS) vessel activity, how much would you be willing to pay for that? 72% said nothing or not applicable, 14% US$50,000/year, 7% US$100,000/year and 7% US$250,000/year.
On Riviera’s Vessel optimisation: how AIS optimises decision making webinar panel were (left to right) Chalmers University of Technology senior strategic research advisor and Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE)’s adjunct professor in maritime informatics, Mikael Lind, HawkEye 360 director of strategy Kevin Moyer, Unikie business development and ecosystems director Jouni Salo and exactEarth president, chief executive and director Peter Mabson