AIS developments can aid commercial shipping further

AIS has not passed its zenith and is far more than a ship spotter’s tool, as a recent study of its uses among commercial shippers demonstrates, writes Argyris Stasinakis, MarineTraffic Lately there has been much talk surrounding space-based AIS, with companies starting to offer or publicise future services and signing agreements with satellite operators, and in some cases even national space agencies.

Automatic identification systems (AIS) consist of a transponder aboard a ship with a GPS and VHF transmitter. The VHF transmits GPS information to coastal or spacebased (satellite) receiving stations. The information is then interpreted by software enabling it to be visually displayed. Optimised global coverage is achieved by effectively leveraging the coverage achieved by networks of terrestrial AIS stations and the unlimited range of spacebased AIS systems.

In comparison to space-based AIS, terrestrial AIS is much cheaper to set-up as no satellites are involved. Consequently the price of applied terrestrial AIS services is significantly less than those using data derived from space based systems.

This is important, as the market for commercially applied AIS services in the maritime sector is wider than might be imagined and customers’ cost expectations vary wildly.

In addition, most commercial users use AIS services to track vessels in coastal waters and to do this land based stations are needed. The most successful applied AIS services are, and will continue to be those that provide a mix of the two in proportion to market needs.

So just how are companies and individuals in commercial shipping using terrestrial AIS? As part of a recent survey we spoke to several users of our own AIS service,  which offers a satellite tracking option but sees most users accessing near-coast coverage from terrestrial AIS stations. Coastal vessel tracking services receive heavy use by maritime workers, especially those engaged in the scheduling, chartering, broking and port management sectors. For this large chunk of the market, cheaply priced and user friendly AIS services, easily accessible via the web, tablets and smartphones, are all that is necessary.

The shipping professionals who responded to the survey are using the service to locate and track vessels within range of coastal AIS stations, on average seventy miles out to sea, using a website and mobile app.

There is general consensus that AIS is more convenient and quicker for finding a vessel’s position than speaking to agents, although agents would certainly be contacted more frequently if AIS services ceased or became over-priced. Obtaining a quick position fix is important in any number of situations, but broadly speaking delays and early arrivals can have positive and negative effects along a supply chain. If a charterer is informed of a delayed cargo arrival in good time, transport arranged to collect the cargo can be rescheduled and cancellation fees saved.

One surveyed user is a shipper of gas cargoes based in Ireland, with their own ships and storage facilities. AIS helps them track the progress of ships and cargoes, quite literally at a glance, enabling the prioritisation of cargoes and maintenance of stock control at port terminals. Use of the service by vessel schedulers, freight forwarders and other logistics workers follows a similar pattern throughout the world. Workers interviewed in these sectors from the United States, Greece, the UK, Brazil and Mexico are all using terrestrial AIS services to check the whereabouts and ETAs of vessels up to ten times a day.

Schedulers co-ordinate the movement of customers’ cargoes and monitor both their own vessel movements and those of competitors. Some are using the service to  track competitors’ ships to identify if theyare operating different routes using different ports. If so, pitches for new business are made and any advantage taken to stay close on competitors’ heels.

Freight forwarders also look for new  business using the system, checking vesselETAs and if they have no bookings on a vessel due in to port, contact the agent and tender for business. Customers can easily be provided with information on multiple ships and cargoes compared to the more time and resource intensive method of calling numerous agents.

Online AIS systems incorporating pictures of vessels are useful to port authorities deciding how to allocate berths. Offshore and subsea equipment providers regularly look at ships’ photos to determine how they can best load and fit equipment. One Singapore based fuel testing / bunker survey agency consults location information and photos to help identify vessels in busy anchorages. The background  information which can be provided is in many cases as essential as the core ETA and position data.  Port authorities can make use of AIS vessel speed data to monitor speed reduction compliance, which in a busy port is virtually impossible to do manually.


Market perceptions

The majority of users surveyed felt the AIS system they are using was a useful tool but that its absence would not affect business.

Instead, a reduction in the level of efficiency and customer service would be experienced. Many are using the free services provided by AIS websites and would not be prepared to pay, although a few said they would accept a low charge.

For providers of terrestrial AIS services  this is both good news but also indicativethat a great deal of development in terms of product, service and marketing needs to be undertaken. Most commercial users are not currently using AIS to track ships out in the oceans and are not keen to pay a high price for the option. AIS providers will be able to save themselves and their customers a great deal of money by providing packages using data mainly from coastal AIS stations but giving the option of satellite tracking for a smaller number of ships. A reasonable ratio currently in use is 500 ships tracked via coastal AIS stations to 15 by satellite. In this way, ships in coastal waters close to loading and offloading cargoes can be seen and constantly monitored. But if the charterer receives news reports of adverse conditions at sea affecting twelve ships, satellite tracking can be engaged and  twelve calls or e-mails to various agents twice a day avoided.

The challenge for AIS system providers is to develop their product offering to give customers tailored services relevant to their sectors, also adjusting the ratio of terrestrial to satellite AIS options. Freight forwarders may want to see ETAs, route and position data for a number of ships all on the same screen and be able to export this data to other computer programs, while a subsea/ROV provider might be far more concerned to have access to a selection of high quality vessel photos to help plan loading and installation. Both freight forwarders and subsea/ ROV providers will want some satellite tracking options but the former most probably in greater numbers. Some users have started to use AIS data to analyse regular voyages to better understand how time-of-year affects passages and routes. AIS websites themselves offer subscribers the ability to create density charts and view cumulative traffic on a particular route.

There are many opportunities for innovation, capitalising on customers’ needs for route analysis, offering packages that sell historical AIS data and the software to manipulate it. Localised AIS system providers have tapped into local market situations. For example, in the United States, bundling AIS data and consulting services for marine casualty litigation enables customers to review incidents online, verify facts and then create the documentation needed to gain a legal edge.

AIS providers should work to identify local avenues but also universal products with straightforward application. Creating awareness of all that can be done with AIS is the most pressing challenge for service providers. In most cases, AIS is currently used by individuals within companies who have latched-on to its usefulness. There is a need for greater understanding at a corporate level of what AIS can do to improve efficiency and Customer service.

Ultimately and if properly integrated with general IT systems, AIS could enable many commercial shipping and other maritime sector companies to deliver a better service to their clients with fewer resources, delivering a positive impact to their bottom lines. AIS data showing container and dry cargo ship movements from July – December 2013


Digital Ship September 2014 page 78

About the Author

Argyris Stasinakis is business

development director at

MarineTraffic, an AIS service

offering data from 1,800

coastal AIS stations in 140

countries around the world

Publicado el septiembre 29, 2014 en News, Technical y etiquetado en , , , , , , , , . Guarda el enlace permanente. Deja un comentario.


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