There can be no smart implementation of e-navigation without harmonized standards that meet user needs, writes Aline de Bièvre
Regulators and shipping industry stakeholders still have much to do to ensure that e-navigation technology can be adopted globally to improve ship safety. Rapid technological advances in maritime navigation bring new opportunities for supporting human endeavours to reduce collisions and groundings, but they can also hinder them through lack of understanding of user needs.
These challenges dominated discussions at this year’s “e-Navigation Underway” (ENUW) International Conference that was held in January on board the DFDS ferry Pearl Seaways for the duration of her two-day roundtrip between Copenhagen and Oslo. The general view of the near 150 participants from 29 countries and seven international organizations was that neither stakeholder nor regulatory responses are fast enough to ensure that the benefits of new technology made a real difference for people at sea.
Mr Andreas Nordseth, director-general of the Danish Maritime Authority (DMA), was a strong advocate of the efficiency benefits of e-navigation. He highlighted the amount of reports that ships still need to provide, citing the dismal case of a ship that had to report the same information 158 times while trading between just a few European ports.
DFDS president and chief executive officer Niels Smedegaard warned that “the exponential speed of digitalisation”, which had already revolutionised the way people lead their daily lives, could very well overwhelm the traditionally conservative maritime industry. “Unless a company like ours recognizes the [technological] changes, we will not survive beyond the next 15 to 20 years,” he said.
Commenting on ongoing efforts in Denmark to establish a single, standardized electronic platform (‘single window’) at the national level as a smart and practical solution for relaying ship reports, Mr Smedegaard deplored the lack of progress as “a nightmare”. Bureaucratic intransigencies and connectivity problems meant that the intended enhanced efficiency gains have not been realised.
Both speakers expressed concern over complacency with regard to cyber security risks, which posed a danger to safety of life at sea. Mr Nordseth, a former ship master, said that the danger is comparable to that posed by marine accidents. Yet procedures and standards for dealing with cyber threats lag far behind those in place for the prevention of and response to accidents.
Autonomous systems’ challenge
Discussions also pinpointed the emerging reality of business case-driven autonomous systems. These are becoming operational and authorities and organisations must prepare urgently for their emergence in the maritime domain. Legal aspects, including liability implications, have hardly received any attention. The planned scoping exercise of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is intended to provide direction to the regulatory debate on maritime autonomous surface ships, but its outcome is not due until 2020.
The conference programme benefited once again from the close cooperation of the International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities (IALA), which is concerned with the – equally important – shore-based aspects of e-navigation.
IALA secretary-general Francis Zachariae said that the harmonized provision of shore-based maritime information services for shipping, using a common maritime data structure and standardized communications, was vital for the successful implementation of e-navigation. IALA’s technical development programme for 2018-2022 includes priority work on data modelling and on digital communications technologies, in particular the VHF Data Exchange System (VDES).
IALA is working closely with the harmonization group on data modelling, a joint initiative of IMO and the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO). The group’s work is based on IHO’s S-100 data exchange standard (also known as the Universal Hydrographic Data Model). This is widely recognized as a baseline standard with inherent flexibility to support a wide variety of digital data sources, products and services.
Delegates received updated reports from several major projects and global test beds on encouraging results obtained from ship-based and shore-side VDES prototype tests that used both terrestrial and satellite platforms. A major attraction of the VDES concerns its ability to cope with increasing volumes of data and high data transmission rates required by some of the more-demanding applications. Furthermore, it incorporates the Automatic Identification System (AIS), protecting the AIS VHF data link from overload and thereby ensuring that the AIS transmission of critical safety information, which is a Solas requirement, is not jeopardised.
Mr Zachariae said that Ecdis manufacturers should act fast in ensuring that their systems can handle increasing volumes of data. Failure to do so risked opening the floodgates to external solutions, with users resorting to smartphones and other personalised electronic devices. This would further complicate interoperability issues and aggravate concerns over lack of maritime standardisation.
IMO Technical Officer Sascha Pristrom, a former deck officer, said that seafarers wished to be able to access easily and fast any additional information they liked to have. They regarded user-selectable information as a welcome element of Ecdis but were frustrated that the system’s features to improve safety were all too often buried under several layers of data.
Various presentations highlighted growing collaboration between e-navigation testbed operators, aided by the overlap of partners in different projects. Outstanding examples included the DMA-coordinated EfficienSea2 demonstration project, the Sweden-led Sea Traffic Management validation project – which draws on the results of the European Commission part-funded MonaLisa testbeds – and South Korea’s SMART-Navigation initiative.
Project leaders said that sharing of and building on each other’s results not only optimized the use of limited resources but also stimulated the development of new maritime services, a shared maritime connectivity infrastructure and common standards for a globally harmonized implementation of e-navigation.
Representing marine equipment manufacturers and professional mariners, respectively, the Comité International Radio-Maritime (CIRM) and the Nautical Institute (NI) reported on their successful collaborative work to develop a more usable and standardised mode of operation (‘S-mode’) and display of information on navigation systems and equipment, such as Ecdis, integrated navigation systems and radar.
Australia and South Korea had provided support by sponsoring workshops and input from academic research. In addition, BIMCO, Intermanager, the International Association of Institutes of Navigation and the International Electrotechnical Commission had made valuable contributions.
CIRM deputy secretary-general Richard Doherty explained that the resulting draft guidelines focused on core functions that must always be available by a simple operation – which he described as an “always-on” form of standardisation.
The original intent to require navigation equipment to have an inbuilt facility to revert automatically to a fully standardised mode of operation had been abandoned. Instead, a more flexible approach had been adopted to safeguard technology innovation, without jeopardising legitimate user needs to locate and interpret essential information quickly and react decisively, which is crucial to safe navigation.
Mr Doherty said he was confident that the draft guidelines would receive a positive response at IMO’s Sub-Committee on Safety of Navigation, Communications, and Search and Rescue (NCSR). This met in February 2018 (NCSR 5) and decided to establish a correspondence group to continue the development of the draft guidelines, with the aim to have them finalized at NCSR 6 next January and approved by the Maritime Safety Committee in June 2019 (MSC 101).
NCSR 5 completed updating work on IMO’s Strategy Implementation Plan for e-navigation. It also finalized draft interim guidelines for the harmonized display of navigation information received via communications equipment. In December, MSC 100 is expected to approve both documents for immediate distribution through MSC circulars.