Tracking and monitoring could play a key role in streamlining compliance with emissions regulations
At IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee meeting in early May 2019, delegates were greeted by protestors demanding more action on emissions reduction. And that same month, the UK’s Committee on Climate Change – an official advisory body – recommended the government pursue a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050, including international shipping in this goal. Industry in general – and shipping in particular – is facing increasing pressure both from the public and from regulatory bodies to cut emissions, and increasing levels of scrutiny.
Digitalisation could play an essential role in helping to solve problems created by regulation while at the same time aiding its enforcement, according to a shipping industry panel at the Sulphur Cap 2020 Conference in Amsterdam.
As the fuels landscape becomes more technically complex, Columbia Shipmanagement fleet manager Christian Obst said digitalisation is “the only way” to find optimal solutions to the added complexity.
“There are a whole lot of open questions [beyond] 2020,” he said. “We need more fuel analysis, and will also have to change the maintenance strategy for ships.”
Ultimately, Mr Obst said, “We have to… create models that can better predict the maintenance needs of engines.”
The Strategy Works’ managing director Michael Herson, however, said micro-satellite technology could spell “the end of the Wild West in shipping.”
And Mr Herson’s colleague, senior consultant Mikael Troberg pointed out the fundamental difference was in access to data.
“I think what is different compared to what we are used to, is that normally we have requirements – fuels we use or discharge from scrubbers – that involves an interaction within IMO and floats down to the governments to pass on [and enforce] the requirements,” he said.
Mr Obst said current monitoring and enforcement trends supported the prediction.
“Monitoring is increasing by the port states. Everybody knows what happens in the United States if the Coast Guard comes on board. The European Union is installing sniffers around Europe under bridges and when vessels pass, they can tell how much sulphur you are burning. Monitoring and digitalisation is getting bigger and bigger,” he said.
“With satellites… the public is always watching us and we have to be aware of that.”
Sister title Marine Propulsion editor Gavin Lipsith observed that this increased scrutiny and its impact on public perception could be a bigger issue than the threat of fines for some players, saying “New technology will not just mean that emissions cheats cannot evade enforcement.
“It will also be capable of showing the world, in real-time and from any distance, whether shipping is living up to its promises.”
This is particularly relevant with the advent of legislation such as the EU’s MRV reporting requirements, covering any vessel of 5,000 gt or greater that calls at an EU port, and IMO’s Data Collection System (DCS) covering any vessel of that size sailing on international voyages.
Owners are required to produce annual validated reports detailing CO2 emissions, fuel consumption, transport work and average energy efficiency. This can impose a heavy administrative burden, which can be eased through adopting tools that incorporate data from performance monitoring systems to automatically produce the reports.
In this way owners can benefit from the value creation opportunities performance monitoring brings, gaining insight into a vessel’s capabilities. Also, by automating the process of report compilation, they can claw back valuable man hours that can be spent on other duties.
Gothenburg, Sweden-based tanker operator and owner Donsötank used an automatic analytics tool to produce its emissions report for 2018. This combines onboard automatic data logging and processing from hardware sensors with cloud-based access to fleetwide performance data. The tool also incorporates a function for creating and signing off reports, streamlining the reporting process. Donsötank’s technical manager Henrik Lorensson commented that without using such a tool “it would have been a much different and much costlier process both for the people in the office and our crew.”
Proactively monitoring vessel behaviour can ensure sanctions compliance
Heightened sanctions regimes mean unusual vessel behaviour and AIS ‘blackouts’ are under greater scrutiny.
This made headlines recently when CNBC and Bloomberg named 2001-built, 300,000-dwt VLCC Pacific Bravo as the first tanker that may be breaking the re-imposed US sanctions on Iran and the sale of Iranian crude oil. CNBC reported that tracking specialists KPLER and TankerTracker believe the vessel entered the Middle East Gulf in mid-May and switched off the AIS before loading crude oil at Kharg Island in Iran, and at the time of writing was on the way to discharge the cargo in China directly or via ship-to-ship transfer.
AIS is mandatory for vessels of 300 gt and above on international voyages, cargo vessels of 500 gt and above not on international voyages, and all passenger vessels regardless of size. While AIS data has been easily accessible for some time now via a host of dedicated apps and websites, this only renders a ship visible as long as the AIS system is active. Avoiding AIS tracking is as simple as switching the transponder off – though for this to be done deliberately without good reason, such as a safety risk to crew, would be a breach of the SOLAS Convention. Such ‘dark’ ships are often linked with attempts to dodge sanctions.
This is a particularly timely topic with US sanctions waivers on Iran expiring in May this year, making Iranian oil a potentially hazardous commodity and resulting in increased scrutiny of all parts of the maritime supply chain to ensure sanctions compliance.
In January this year, a circular was issued by the International Group of P&I Clubs that noted “An indicator of potential evasion activity of ships arises when a ship inexplicably diverts course or ceases to transmit its AIS signal.
“The interest of surveillance agencies will be heightened where it is judged that loss of the AIS signal is the result of a master or other crew member deliberately turning off the transmitter signal in order to conceal the ship’s voyage pattern and navigational activities.”
This has also been highlighted by the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which identified disabling AIS transponders as a deceptive practice and called for owners, port operators, charterers, insurers and registries to consider investigating instances where vessels have disabled their AIS in the Mediterranean or Red Sea areas.
Gard senior lawyer Irene Anastassiou cautions “Whatever the reason, the lack of signal should be recorded.
“Going dark in areas of heightened surveillance is a red flag to authorities and legitimate reasons may need to be evidenced to dispel suspicion of intentional avoidance of sanctions compliance.”
But simply going dark may not be enough to avoid detection, with new systems becoming available that can complement AIS and other traditional vessel tracking systems, such as an algorithm that works autonomously on satellite imagery to pick up dark vessels even with their AIS transponder deactivated.
The workflow that enables this has two stages. Firstly, a selective segmentation algorithm takes a larger image and, based on factors such as red-green-blue colour profiling or proximity, identifies areas of the image that could potentially contain ships. This saves on processing power required for analysis in the next stage, as the areas of a satellite image that just contain open water are removed from the analysis. In the next stage, a convolutional neural network (CNN) is trained to decide if each of the regions identified contains ships or not. Supervised learning is used to train the CNN to label the images as 'ship' or 'no-ship' and to refine its ability to assign these categories.
Technologies such as these enable shipowners to be fully aware of their vessels’ locations, even if AIS data is unavailable. In the increasingly stringent regulatory environment, owners could come to depend on such technologies to know exactly where their vessels are and to prove compliance with regulations.