Eye in the sky

Industry Database

Although there is still no legal requirement for a vessel management system, satellite, radar and VHF tracking systems could make port operations safer, swifter and more commercially viable, as Patrik Wheater finds out

Until recently, port authorities would often cobble together a rudimentary vessel traffic system (VTS) using an automatic identification system (AIS) receiver and basic VTS software to optimise their operations with a limited vessel traffic information service. Port authorities could in fact put a simple vessel traffic system in place for as little as ¢1,000 ($1,341).

But despite there still being no legal requirement to do so, many ports are now investing heavily in more sophisticated data capture equipment that allows ports to operate more efficiently while, at the same time, playing a pivotal role in a nation's homeland security arrangements.

Driven by US-led legislation in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, together with advancements in computer networking, systems manufacturers have developed state-of-the-art technology, transforming the humble VTS into a fully fledged ship traffic management information and data processing system that layers data from a network of base station radars, AIS sensors, CCTV systems and VHS audio traffic (and, in the future, long range identification and tracking (LRIT) data) on to electronic charts to provide the port with all the data needed to increase the efficiency of its operations.

With such information available, ports can streamline vessel management and security arrangements by predicting the flow of ship traffic entering and leaving the port. And this, as Transas general manager Shailendra Shukla says, allows for the more efficient movement of vessels inside the port, and better berthing, loading and unloading procedures. "If you have a better organised traffic system in place then the throughput of vessels coming in and out of the port increases, so the efficiency of the port increases, and hence it makes for a more commercially viable operation because you have swifter ship turnaround times."

Transas, one of the first companies to adopt modular software and an open architecture approach to its ship-to-shore communication systems, recently received an order to supply a Vessel Traffic Management Information System (VTMIS) to the new APM-managed Khalifa Bin Salman Port (KBSP), in Bahrain, which is scheduled to be operational by the end of 2008.

A VTMIS installation was considered such a critical component to the commercial success of KBSP - a sprawling transhipment hub with 900,000m2 of container terminal/general cargo area, 10,800 ground slots for terminal storage, and 1,800m of berthing - that stakeholders APM Terminals and Svitzer requested a fully upgradable system capable of increasing port efficiency, safety of navigation and traffic management but also one that would facilitate any future expansion plans.

The solution installed and commissioned last month was a unique type of coastal radar with a 19ft antenna installed on top of a BAPCO tower located across the harbour to monitor and control approaching traffic, with another 12ft radar positioned on top of the KBSP control tower for better tracking in the immediate area surrounding the port. The scope of supply included CCTV cameras, meteorological sensors for wind speed, direction, visibility, and tide and currents information.

One of the major factors that helped Transas secure this contract was the inclusion of its Navi-Harbour software and a powerful ORS3 radar processor system. The software is a complete VTMIS package that allows the electronic chart to display combined radar video data received from several radar sensors, alongside the combined results of data handling by the radar processors (multi-radar tracking) to facilitate efficient execution of ship traffic analysis and planning, and search & rescue and crisis management operations. With the possibility of integrating information from other regional/national/international systems such as VTS, the AIS network, Safe Sea Net and LRIT, the information can then be distributed to shipowners, agents and administrations. When combined with IMO S57 marine vector charts, the result is a precise display that presents accurate and real-time situational awareness.

Indeed, with more ships, more cargo, and more traffic entering the world's ports, situational awareness is imperative to commercial and environmental sustainability; bottlenecks can impact negatively on both as any collision or oil/chemical spill poses a significant threat not only to the environment but also a company's bottom line and its reputation. So from a safety perspective, VTMIS mitigates near misses and collisions and in the event of an accident provides a reasonable starting point from which investigators can begin collating data. It also provides a legal record of the circumstances leading up to an accident.

Together with its MTM200 Vessel Traffic System, which like other solutions on the market integrates radar, cameras, radio direction finders, transponders and AIS data, US-based Lockheed Martin Safety has developed a complete Port Management System (PMS) that integrates rule-based software with a variety of sensors to help ports safeguard against any potential mishap.

In the case of an accident, the Lockheed Martin Port Management System improves emergency response to oil spill or hazardous conditions by providing communications links to emergency/environmental agencies to facilitate spill containment and clean-up. However, the PMS is very much a multifunctional tool.

Comprising electronic charts embedded into the display to maximise navigational safety for approaching and departing vessels and an Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) to provide intra-port information sharing, the PMS incorporates hydrographical and meteorological sensors to provide real-time tide, current, salinity, and weather information. An integrated radar and camera system provides vessel location and visuals with vessel clearance system technology capable of detecting bridge air gap and under keel clearance to afford safe passage. Laser docking systems can be installed although pre-planned ship mooring arrangements, approach-speed monitors and mooring strain sensors are included to ensure safe mooring operations and to eliminate damage to facilities. Pilots can even take a "carry-on" version which has a range of capabilities including complete navigation and docking assistance and on-board VTS.

New to the VTS market is a recently launched system from Saab Transpondertech, the Swedish pioneer of AIS technology. Saab has built on its sensor integration and network building know-how to develop a suite of VTMIS solutions, designated CoastWatch, that it claims offers new operator-oriented features that "will give us an advantage" over existing systems.

Developed in cooperation with the Swedish Maritime Authority (SMA), which operates a number of VTS, the Saab system offers integrated work flow support which does away with complex and often confusing graphic overlays to enable the operator to more safely guide a ship to port. 

The system for the SMA, which illustrates the approaches to Gothenburg harbour, allows the operator to carry out various tasks: report generation, data capture/uploading, sector handovers and so on. In time, Saab's AIS and VTMIS solutions will be interfaced with the Differential Global Positioning System developed by US-based Trimble, which, according to Saab, will enhance marine navigation and safety with an additional layer of redundancy and reliability, ensuring uninterrupted DGPS service during inclement conditions or times of high interference.

It is the inclusion of LRIT data, however, that could really take VTMIS to an altogether different league. If LRIT data can be included as part of VTMIS, which many suppliers believe will be sanctioned and are thus looking at ways to integrate this data, then information will be available to carry out, among other functions, in-depth risk analyses of vessels entering ports, as the coast guard will have a far better insight into a vessel's history. Homeland security and ENZ protection will be significantly enhanced because relevant parties will know exactly where a ship has come from, where it stopped and if it slowed down.

The difference is that VTS delivers information as ships move along the coast related to a specific location but LRIT provides data as a ship moves across the oceans using satellite technology, as opposed to the radar-based VTS systems and the VHF systems inherent to AIS.

Northrop Grumman subsidiary Sperry Marine believes that an LRIT addition would be a natural extension to VTMIS. Apart from the potential safety and security it would offer, AIS, VTS, and LRIT all on one screen would undoubtedly prove a more useful, accurate tool with which to optimise port management arrangements. The company is ready to integrate LRIT technology with other VTS and AIS systems as soon as it knows what the end game will be; there are concerns relating to information sharing and ownership that need to be resolved before LRIT data can be fully integrated into a VTMIS.


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