Could route sharing cut red tape?

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

29 January 2018


Ensuring that ships and other craft can move safely and efficiently in coastal and port environments is the role of Vessel Traffic Services (VTS). Except for a few specific areas, sea traffic management has been limited to individual ports or small groups of closely related ports. Modern VTS operations have been made possible by the advent of radar and assisted most recently by AIS. In the future VHF Data Exchange System (VDES) is expected to make sharing even more data than can be done with AIS simpler and more cost effective. E-navigation has been a hot topic for several years now and it is probably promoted more enthusiastically by the EU than by any other nation, regional body or maritime organisation. The EU’s ambition is to manage sea traffic centrally rather than leave it to national or local bodies. It can then monitor and control the movement of vessels, cargoes and goods as well as gaining some control over vessels moving between states outside of the EU through EU waters. The EU has established and funded several projects aimed at moving e-navigation from concept to reality such as EfficienSea and has established bodies including the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) and Sea Safe Net to develop and manage e-navigation and related issues. In January this year, the operators of the EfficienSea2 project announced a new development in the Baltic Sea which it claims will reduce the burden on ships crews and offer authorities a better ability to ensure safe traffic at sea. By cooperating with the Finnish Transport Agency as a part of the EU-funded project EfficienSea2, the Norwegian surveillance system manufacturer Vissim has become the first operator to integrate voyage data from the ENSI-system (Enhanced Navigation Support Information) in their own vessel traffic monitoring system.

One call instead of many

The ENSI system has been developed in Finland and allows ships in the Baltic Sea to share their electronic route plan and the mandatory reports needed for the voyage with any VTS or SRS system using it. The ship will then receive feedback on safety issues, weather conditions and other matters from automated sources. ENSI receives information from registered ships route plans entered into their ECDIS via the internet. It then checks the route and reports back to the vessel any potential problems. Max Semenov, Chief Technical Officer at Vissim, says this will allow VTS centres and ships crews to drastically reduce their reporting burdens: “Today, a ship sailing from Helsinki to Oslo passes many VTS zones and has to share voyage data with all of them. Some require more than others, but in most cases some form of radio contact is necessary. Being able to integrate voyage information from a different route reporting scheme and distribute the information to all relevant actors along the route will make it possible to report only once per voyage,” he said. The ability to integrate ENSI with a VTS system is achieved by using the so-called RTZ format for route exchange, which makes it possible to share the electronic route with VTS centres or other stakeholders along the route. For Vissim, and potentially other equipment manufacturers, this will allow them to offer new possibilities for maritime actors using their technology, while ENSI may prove even more beneficial for its users: “Often, VTS and SRS centres will have route recommendations or restrictions based on draught or safety hazards. With this integration they will have a much simpler time giving feedback. They will receive the reports and route plans in a clear, digital, way with little room for misunderstandings – and they will have much more time, as they don’t have wait for the ships to enter their VTS domain before receiving information,” explained Mikko Klang, a consultant for the Finnish Transport Agency on ENSI-related issues.

Global potential

The route sharing possibilities are presently limited to the Baltic Sea Region covered by both ENSI and Vissim, but the ambition of the EfficienSea2 project to have a global impact. By demonstrating how such route-sharing capabilities can be developed between different systems, EfficienSea2 hopes to lay the groundwork for future efforts toward smarter navigation. “The principles used to integrate ENSI’s and Vissim’s systems can be applied to many other regions of the world. When a captain knows his or her route and which waypoints they will pass, it makes little sense to have to report that more than once. Hopefully, we are helping to eliminate that burden,” says Mikko Klang. In order to exploit the new possibilities of integrating the ENSI data in other vessel traffic monitoring systems, manufacturers can find more information through the so-called Maritime Connectivity Platform or at the website of ENSI. Vissim will soon be offering their users to benefit directly from the work being done in EfficienSea2.

Causes for concern

Understandably the announcement by EfficienSea2 emphasises the positive aspects of the route sharing development but one ship operator that ShipInsight spoke to raised some concerns on condition of anonymity. While there are some benefits from making a single report, there must also be the potential for confusion and problems if any vessel’s route is changed for whatever reason and the information is not transmitted to the ENSI system or to a local VTS. The potential for inaccurate information could increase when the route plan is shared with many VTS because even if the route remains the same, progress along it can be affected by more than the conditions (weather, ice etc) known to the various VTS stations along the route. Communication problems are not uncommon in shipping and can be caused by a whole variety of reasons either on ship or on shore. Another potential failing could be when an ECDIS has been programmed with a route plan that includes inaccurate information such as draught caused for example by transposing figures or some other inaccuracy. The problems of passage planning mistakes has recently been highlighted in a 23 minute video produced by the Britannia P&I Club and available on the club’s website. The loss prevention video concentrates on the perils of an over reliance on and a lack of appropriate knowledge of ECDIS. Set on the bridge of a medium-sized tanker, the video goes through a series of scenarios highlighting the actions of the ship’s Master, First Officer, Third Officer and Lookout. The film demonstrates how a series of small errors in judgment and a few assumptions, without reviewing all the facts, can lead to a vessel grounding and all the implications that this could entail. The video may be fictional but the events portrayed in it will be familiar to many navigators. Since ECDIS is – or soon will be - mandatory on board all ships above 3,000gt, most would expect that it will be used as the primary means of navigation but SOLAS does not demand that this is the case and so long as an approved ECDIS is onboard and has updated ENCs for the voyage, the ship will meet the requirements, but the owner can still require that paper charts are the primary means of navigation. How e-navigation systems deal with that and the fact that small ships need not carry ECDIS remains to be seen.