Long range identification & tracking (LRIT)

Updated 11 Oct 2019

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After the use of AIS for reasons of security (rather than its intended aim of an aid to navigation) was found to be inefficient, at MSC 81in 2006 the IMO adopted proposals for long-range tracking and identification (LRIT) of ships, to form part of SOLAS Chapter V.

The obligations of ships to transmit LRIT information and the rights and obligations of SOLAS Contracting Governments and of Search and rescue services to receive LRIT information are established in regulation V/19-1 of SOLAS. Provisions of the amendment came into force in 2009 after which all internationally-trading vessels over 300gt operating outside of GMDSS Sea Areas A1 were required to install the necessary equipment and transmit via satellite technology their identity, location, date and time of position to shoreside bodies authorised to receive it. Ships operating exclusively in coastal Sea Area A1 and fitted with an AIS are exempt.

LRIT requires ships to make regular transmissions of identification and position every six hours to a tracking service which can only release the information with the authority of the vessel’s flag state. Other states with an interest in particular ships may make applications to the flag state for access to the information.

If security levels are raised, or if a particular ship becomes of special interest, then the regularity of transmissions and monitoring may be stepped up to as much as once every 15 minutes. The operating standards for LRIT demand that the transmissions can be controlled remotely, without intervention on board. Effectively this means that the transmitter must be of a type that can be polled by a service nominated by the flag state.

Unusually for a new IMO regulation, the vast majority of ships were not required to install any new equipment but only to have certification proving that whatever was on board and intended for use was in compliance with the LRIT equipment requirements. For most vessels the Inmarsat C GMDSS system is acceptable, as are some SSAS devices. Some Iridium systems are also approved for LRIT compliance. Whatever equipment is used must either have its own in-built GPS system or be connected to an external GPS.

Ensuring that ships comply with the LRIT regulations is the responsibility of the flag state. Under the LRIT framework, each state can either establish a national data centre (DC) or join with others to form a regional or co-operative data centre. Flag states have appointed Application Service Providers (ASP) to manage communications between the ship, the Communication Service Provider (CSP) and the DC. All information is stored by the various DCs and passed to other centres and states when authorized by a ship’s flag state. The choice of ASP is down to the ship operator from any appointed by the flag state. Many ASPs have been appointed by several flag states.

The LRIT system has now been in operation for several years and while it appears to be functioning as intended there is not universal satisfaction with it. The costs of the six-hourly transmissions are borne by the flag state and some are finding this a heavy financial burden, especially as most of the data is simply received and stored and never requested by any other contracting government. As an example, during the period from 1 January to 30 June 2014, Liberia-flagged vessels transmitted 2,204,031 position reports of which only 17% were requested by Contracting Governments.

It has been proposed that AIS and S-AIS could provide an alternative because there is no immediate cost involved in any transmission. The question is under discussion but whether all flag states are happy for information collected by commercial enterprises from vessels on the high seas to be sold to other governments and organisations and individuals prepared to subscribe remains to be seen. Another option proposed at MSC 95 in 2015 was to reduce the number of daily transmissions from four to two. There was support for this proposition but no action has yet been put in place to implement a change. At NCSR4 in 2017, two options were proposed for further consideration but the matter is still to be finalised.

Another issue with LRIT is that, since the structure involves several commercial organisations and governments acting as DCs all gathering and passing data, continual operations can be subject to disruptions. For some time now, the IMO has been concerned about this and is attempting to improve continual service by developing and testing means of recovery for the network when individual components are affected by factors such as maintenance, loss of service or cyber attack. The matter is continually under review at the NCSR sub-committee and at MSC with reporting at each meeting up to and including those taking place in 2019.

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