VTS TAKES ON NEW ROLES IN POST 9/11 WORLD

VTS is likely to play an increasing role in maritime security, not just safety of navigation
VTS is likely to play an increasing role in maritime security, not just safety of navigation
Norcontrol ITs Horntvedt Transas Cherepanov
Norcontrol ITs Horntvedt Transas Cherepanov
Combining VTS with AIS will reduce reliance on voice communication, which can be prone to error
Combining VTS with AIS will reduce reliance on voice communication, which can be prone to error

Vessel Traffic Systems (VTS) are set to play a major role in the new security regime imposed by the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code, as David Foxwell explains.

As Kathryn Hossain, Navigation Manager at Trinity House Lighthouse Service points out, although it remains primarily concerned with the provision of services to compliant commercial traffic in order to facilitate safe navigation and protection of the environment, VTS technology has long since evolved from being purely an aid to safe navigation into an invaluable management tool for ports, providing them with vessel traffic and marine information management capability. "As such, it provides three services, " she explains, "namely the provision of information, navigational assistance and traffic organisation."

However, as Hossain, also told PS, trends in VTS design and operation are increasingly being influenced by the need for more comprehensive wide-area traffic information. As she points out, this will lead to an increase in the volume of information being exchanged, not only between the vessel and the VTS but also between different VTS centres, and this requirement for information exchange will, in due course, lead to the formulation of international, as well as national, VTS networks.

In Hossain's view, the increased demand for information exchange will also place greater demand for the use of automated systems for the effective management and validation of the high-density data transfer between ships, VTS centres and VTS networks.

NEW ROLES FOR AIS Most VTS organisations require vessels to report to the VTS centre when approaching or entering a VTS area, but this can be a time consuming process and relies on the co-operation of the participating vessel.

In future, however, the use of Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) is expected to contribute significantly to the compilation of the traffic image, which is the basis upon which a VTS centre can respond to traffic situations, thereby overcoming the weaknesses of the current manual reporting.

Work on AIS started out with the search for a relatively simple, but elusive goal of providing ships at sea with the identity of other ships they encounter, and doing so reliably and automatically. It soon became clear, however, that AIS had many other potential uses that extend beyond the 'ship-to-ship' scenario, one of the first being its application within a VTS.

Positive identification of the participants in a VTS is essential to the accurate delivery of VTS information, safe navigation, and the organisation of marine traffic, and AIS offers a way of simplifying and automating this process, one that has been a cumbersome and error-prone procedure until now. Moreover, apart from identifying the vessels picked up by the radar in a VTS, AIS also delivers precise positioning and manoeuvring information to VTS operators, helping them to manage the movement of ships more efficiently.

Given its inherent capability to provide the identity of a vessel, AIS also looks likely to play a key role in the new maritime security environment, and to the three services outlined above by Kathryn Hossain, the advent of the ISPS Code has added a fourth, because, as Trinity House's navigation manager explains, co-ordination of port and allied services will become increasingly important in the interests of security.

"VTS will play a central role in the gathering and disseminating information for safety, security, environmental protection and economic performance purposes. In the current heightened security environment in which VTS now operates, national security organisations could become the recipients, where appropriate, of VTS generated information. After all, this information, where appropriate, is already made available to other allied and emergency services, " Hossain says.

As VTS providers point out, a port that uses a VTS for the control of the movement of vessels approaching a port and within its navigable waters is already complying with one of the requirements of the ISPS Code, and can relatively easily be adapted to operate as a security tool. A VTS will provide a 'recognised surface picture' covering the approaches to a port and the water within its boundaries and automatically create tracks for surface contacts - whether they are small inflatable boats or large merchant ships - so that an operator can then 'investigate' and attempt to identify tracks using a variety of means, such as AIS, visual identification or requesting identification via VHF communication.

Another recommendation in the Code is the provision of an automatic detection device with an alarm system, and most VTS systems already automatically create tracks for any radar contact which could be linked to a visual and/or audible alarm that is activated should a track in the system approach and enter restricted areas.

Restricted areas could be preset into the VTS and programmed to change as the security level in the system is amended. These restricted areas could be permanently registered in the system, such as areas around fixed port facilities, or temporary ones, amended according to the security level, and entered into the system by the operator, such as for the visit of a particular ship that is deemed a security risk.

A properly used maritime surveillance system will also improve the effectiveness of waterborne patrols by extending their search horizon, and its existence may allow the reduction in the number of such patrols.

Today many commercial ports already have in place Port Management systems of varying degrees of complexity, all of which rely on databases, and it would, say VTS providers, be possible to add port management system security functionality that could cover the mandatory requirements and recommendations of the ISPS Code. Furthermore, that security information which the port wishes to promulgate can be displayed on a local net for interested parties (who have password access) within the port's infrastructure and those outside the port by placing it on the Internet. This would be ideal for alerting the changes in security level to key personnel within the port organisation or, indeed, any other pertinent security information.

As is highlighted above, AIS can play a key role in improving the level of confidence in a track, but this level of confidence could be further increased by associating or linking AIS information with other databases, such as the Lloyds database, which would supply more data about a particular ship, as required, or could be linked to a dedicated database containing intelligence information on suspect ships and undesirable personnel.

UNDERWATER SENSORS ADDED With the impending introduction of the ISPS Code, manufacturers have been quick to highlight the growth potential of existing VTS and to complement radar and AIS-based systems with new sensors designed to enhance the capability of VTS as an aid to maritime safety.

For example, Norcontrol IT in Norway, a well known provider of vessel traffic management and information systems (VTMIS), port management information systems and AIS, has teamed with Simrad Mesotech Ltd in Vancouver to offer ports and harbours what it claims is a "complete" harbour surveillance system using surface and subsea technology.

Using a combination of underwater sonar technology, radar and CCTV, Norcontrol IT's harbour surveillance system is capable of providing what the company calls "early detection" of threats to security. Information from the surveillance system can be integrated with Norcontrol IT's VTMIS systems and AIS solutions, to supply prior warning to a port's security staff of any threats detected.

The harbour surveillance system employs proprietary technology from Norcontrol IT and Kongsberg Mesotech Ltd. Iintegrated underwater surveillance systems based on Kongsberg solutions, are already installed and operational at several locations around the world, using 90kHz SM 2000 multibeam sonars which recent trials conducted by the US Navy suggest to be one of the most cost effective means of detecting divers.

Jan Anders Horntvedt, managing director of Norcontrol IT in Norway, told PS he believes that VTS had already evolved beyond being a 'market' and is now a 'technology' that could easily be applied in related markets, such as maritime security. "We seldom sell a VTS pure nowadays, " he explains. "We tend to find that what ports and harbours want is a VTMIS, a VTS which also directly contributes to making ports more efficient."

Another feature of the 'next generation' VTS that Horntvedt foresees is the addition of different types of sensors - primarily underwater sensors such as sonar - that will protect ports - and the ships that use them - against terrorist attack.

In Horntvedt's view, another key trend in VTS is that, whereas it used to extend to the boundaries of individual ports, post 9/11, there is an increased demand for coast-wide vessel traffic and surveillance systems, even very large-scale nationwide monitoring systems, that combine radar-based technology with the high level of information available with AIS.

GREATER INFORMATION THROUGHPUT For his part, Sergei Cherepanov, director of the VTS business unit at Transas in St Petersburg, agrees with Horntvedt and says he believes that as VTS becomes more and more software based, and less reliant on hardware, it will become increasingly attractive to small ports and harbours, and economical for them to use.

Cherepanov agrees there will be significant growth in the level and amount of information processed by VTS. "The level of information handled by VTS is increasing, and the introduction of AIS brings with it the promise of improved reliability and accuracy of navigational information, " he explains, a sentiment agreed with by Trevor Evans, managing director of Anglo-American AIS experts International Maritime Information Systems (IMIS) Global, a company that has recently signed an agreement with defence conglomerate BAE Systems to jointly pursue AIS maritime radio data networks.

The adoption of AIS technology will "spin off" many value added services for ports and harbours, Evans believes, not least of which will be making ships safer, and making ports and harbours more secure.

In November 2003 Transas launched a new product specifically developed to meet port and harbour needs under the ISPS Code. The company describes the product, Navi Monitor, as a "powerful high-tech surveillance and alert system" based on the popular Navi Harbour VTS system and specifically adapted for the needs of small and medium size ports and offshore platforms.

Transas says its Navi Monitor is ideally suited to meet the port security requirements set forth in Chapter 14 of the SOLA Convention and provides an efficient and flexible solution for oil and chemical terminals and other dangerous cargo facilities falling under the ISPS Code, as well as civil facilities vulnerable to terrorist attacks from the water. In this respect, the key functions of Navi Monitor include monitoring and identification of vessels in coastal waters; navigation situation analysis; generation of alarms and notification messages in accordance with pre-set criteria; and continuous recording of navigation data for playback and analysis.

MILITARY BACKGROUND Borre, Norway-based NAVTEK is a relative newcomer to the VTS business but has an extensive background in providing surveillance systems to the military, which, sales manager Ulf Einar, believes, makes it well placed to provide VTS capable of meeting the requirements of the ISPS Code.

As Einar told PS , NAVTEK introduced a totally new vessel traffic system known as NAVTIMS (NAVTEK Vessel Traffic Information Management) at the International Association of Lighthouse Authority (IALA) VTS conference in Hong Kong earlier this year.

Einar says NAVTIMS has been designed "from the ground up" as a true, modular, multi-sensor, multi-centre VTS, programmed using Microsoft .NET. NAVTIMS is derived from technology used by NAVTEK in a coastal surveillance system the company is currently delivering for a civil/military customer. "We see the ISPS Code as being very important and we think we are well placed to respond to it, " Einar says, noting that the company's background in surveillance systems provides it with an in-depth understanding of tracking marine targets.

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