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AIS manipulation should become a criminal offence

There are growing calls for vessel owners and operators who deliberately manipulate Automatic Identification System (AIS) data to conceal their identity or unlawful activities to be criminally prosecuted. The AIS enables ships to transmit tiny parcels of data, including vessel identity, type, position, course, speed, and navigational status, in a signal that can be received by coastal stations and satellites. This data is then made widely available through various online and offline services and used for business, safety and security applications.

AIS is standardised by the International Telecommunication Union and adopted by IMO. It is mandatory under Solas rules for all passenger ships irrespective of size, and ships of more than 300gt and engaged on international voyages, to carry AIS devices. Cargo ships of more than 500gt but not engaged on international voyages are also required to carry AIS equipment. There are also a huge number of vessels outside these parameters using AIS tranceivers for navigational use. But there are no global mandatory rules covering them.

Ship operators are increasingly manipulating AIS data to conceal their identity, location and destination, undermining the ability to track their activities. This concealment can encompass vessels that are engaged in illegal fishing, ships circumventing international sanctions, or shipping companies trying to gain a financial advantage by switching off AIS. For example, oil traders could affect crude prices by concealing oil that is kept in floating storage.

According to maritime analysts at Windward, increasing numbers of vessel operators are using AIS vulnerabilities to conceal criminal activity. They identified five methods of manipulating the data. Operators can transmit false data, or forget to transmit their destination port. Windward estimates that around 1 per cent of vessels with IMO identifiers are transmitting fake data, and there has been a 30 per cent rise in the number of ships reporting false identities (see page 28).

Windward analysts also said there has been an almost 60 per cent rise in masters tampering with the GPS feed to AIS devices to produce false vessel positions, often on the advice of onshore managers. AIS data can also be spoofed and inserted into a data stream in order to create ‘ghost ships’ in the congested sea of information.

This is happening because there are financial incentives to hide the real identities of ships and no global mechanisms to validate the data. It is important to maintain the integrity of AIS data because it is a key factor in navigational safety and maritime security. It is also increasingly important in daily commerce as businesses rely on the information to make informed trading decisions.

In the fishing industry dwindling stocks, volatile fish prices and rising competition are driving fishing vessels into more remote locations and increasingly into areas where it is illegal to operate (see page 36). Authorities can use AIS as a tool for tracking international fishing fleets and protect environmentally sensitive areas. Criminals can switch off AIS during drug running or people trafficking, thereby preventing authorities from tracking and catching the perpetrators.

The marine industry is crying out for a worldwide response to tackle the growing threat of deliberate manipulation of AIS data. But without any form of validation or policing the system, there is unlikely to be any way to prove manipulation, or whether it is deliberate. Windward recommended that the industry implements AIS cybersecurity and countermeasures to improve the integrity of AIS reports.

However, there also needs to be a method of identifying accidental AIS data errors, as seafarers can make mistakes inputting data or setting up AIS equipment. MarineTraffic business development director Argyris Stasinakis believes the majority of AIS discrepancies are accidental and down to human error. For example, the ship identifiers (MMSI number, IMO number, or call sign) on the AIS transponder may have been wrongly configured.

These errors can be minimised by cross-referencing the reported AIS data with known details of the vessel. Algorithms can be developed to identify AIS anomalies automatically. They can check previous locations with reported positions and validate course and speed declarations. Familiarising seafarers with how to accurately operate AIS equipment would also reduce errors.

The recent expansion in satellite AIS infrastructure has vastly improved capabilities for tracking vessels and ships beyond the limits of coastal stations. But without a global lead in tackling the growing levels of deliberate manipulation, authorities will not be able to enhance maritime safety and security. Tackling this growing problem requires better IMO guidance, making deliberate falsification of AIS data a criminal offence, and the prosecution of perpetrators. MEC

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. Lee el resto de esta entrada

exactEarth expands Satellite AIS tools

exactEarth has released two new products to complement its Satellite AIS services – exactAIS Density Maps and ShipView

exactAIS Density Maps enable customers to view the density of ship AIS messages produced by its exactAIS service.

The mapping can be used to analyse shipping patterns and trends at differing scales, says the Canadian provider of Satellite AIS data.

According to exactEarth, data on shipping density can be useful in assessing ship strike risk, developing mitigation

measures, analysing the efficiency of shipping routes and for investigation into shipping activity around sensitive areas such

as the nearly 6,000 Marine Protected Areas across the world.

exactAIS Density Maps will be offered in both a pre-generated or customisable version to suit users’ needs and areas of interest.

“We have seen a steady increase in the amount of customers using our global data feed or archived data to create a series of

density maps to be used to perform indepth vessel pattern analysis,” said Bruce Winter, product manager of Data Services

at exactEarth.

“In an effort to provide the most complete shipping data solutions available on the market, exactEarth is excited to be

rolling out this new Density Map product to aid in this critical process.” ShipView meanwhile is a web-based

map viewer for customers of the exactAIS service, including many of the same features as the company’s existing exactAIS

Viewer, but with the addition of tools such as single line searching and downloadable data.

Users can filter the display to only include ships or areas of interest, and can also download vessel tracks or create ship

lists of vessels in the current view. "exactEarth ShipView represents thenext generation of a ship viewing platform,"

said Taylor Nicholls, product manager of Geospatial Services at exactEarth. "We’re committed to bringing our customers

the best Satellite AIS data solutions and products available on the market. ShipView is an extension of that commitment

and is the perfect viewing tool for quickly assessing all maritime traffic currently traversing our oceans."

exactEarth’s Satellite AIS products will also be enhanced by a recent expansion of the company’s strategic partnership with

Genscape, the parent company of Vesseltracker.

Vesseltracker, which provides terrestrial AIS information and ship databases, will now also be available on exactAIS. In turn,

exactEarth will be providing its Satellite AIS data services to Genscape for the creation of derivative products including

summary flow reports and critical analysis assessments.

exactEarth and Genscape will also jointly explore the development and distribution of new AIS-based data products and


"We are excited to enter into this agreement with Genscape” said Peter Mabson, president of exactEarth.

“We will now be able to offer the rich maritime information databases of Genscape to our valued customers.”

The release of these new services comes as exactEarth celebrates six years of operation of its Satellite AIS system.

Its first dedicated AIS satellite, NTS, was launched from India on 28 April 2008. Originally built as an experimental AIS

payload with a design life of three months, the satellite is still in operation today and has now completed 2,235 days and 33,100

orbits of the Earth. From a demonstration concept, NTS matured to an operational mission, providing

the Canadian government with shipping traffic around Vancouver duringthe 2010 Winter Olympics. The following

summer, it was tasked with covering South African waters during the 2010 football World Cup.

NTS was used in the early stages of the exactView constellation but with the addition of five more technologically advanced

satellites, it is now used primarily for research and development purposes. exactEarth says that the exactView constellation

continues to grow with additional launches and ground stations scheduled throughout the coming year.

“We are committed to expanding the most robust Satellite AIS constellation available to ensure our customers receive

the highest quality, timely and most up to date maritime information possible,” said Mr Mabson.

“When NTS was launched, it took nearly three months to map the world’s shipping traffic with the high detection quality

exactEarth offers today every few hours. When our constellation and ground station deployment is complete, we will do so

every hour and make the information available to our customers in minutes.”

IMO subcommittee approves Iridium

Iridium says it is moving closer to being recognised as a provider of mobile satellite communications for the Global Maritime

Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) after its application was approved by the IMO’s Sub-Committee on Navigation,

Communications and Search and Rescue (NCSR). The application will now proceed to the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) at

its next meeting in November. A group of experts will then carry out a technical and operational evaluation, and their report

will be reviewed by the NCSR sub-committee before the MSC decides whether to grant final approval.

"This is a victory for Iridium and the maritime industry," saidIridium’s CEO Matt Desch, after the NCSR

sub-committee advanced the application to the following stage of evaluation.

"The overwhelming support for our application to provide the industry an

alternative and equally capable option for GMDSS services is a testament to the value and benefit the Iridium network can provide

to maritime safety."

Without naming Inmarsat, Iridium notes that "the incumbent GMDSS provider is not able to provide service" in

the Polar regions, which are only covered by its own constellation of 66 Low Earth Orbit inter-connected satellites.

Iridium, which will begin deploying its second generation constellation (Iridium NEXT) in 2015, says that in

anticipation of IMO recognition it is working with equipment manufacturers for the production and certification

of GMDSS terminals that use its network. Once approved, the shipboard terminals will meet both the GMDSS and operational

communications needs of a vessel, says Iridium, which expects them to be available before the end of 2015.

UKHO says majority of global tanker fleet yet to adopt ECDIS

The United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO) claims that 58 per cent of all tankers obliged to implement an ECDIS system by July 2015 have yet to do so.

Over 8,500 tankers will fall under the new regulations next year, but according to the UKHO, just 3,600 have adopted the technology ten months before the deadline.

The UKHO data also shows divergence in ECDIS adoption between different tanker sizes and types. Just 23 per cent of the global product tanker fleet is already using an ENC service, compared to 44 per cent of crude tankers and 63 per cent of LNG tankers.

The amendments to the SOLAS Convention requiring the mandatory carriage of ECDIS were adopted in 2009, with deadlines for different vessels phased over a number of years.

Captain Paul Hailwood, who delivers seminars on ECDIS for the UKHO, said: “The transition to ECDIS is a very complex and significant undertaking, whether it is for a single ship or an entire fleet. This data on the current state of ENC use across the global tanker fleet reveals that there is still a long way to go in a short period of time if the fleet is to be fully ready to comply with the SOLAS regulations, even allowing for exemptions and the grace period until a ship’s first survey date.”

“Any tanker owner or operator beginning or yet to begin preparations for the adoption of ECDIS should have a plan in place by now in order to make the transition in a safe, compliant and efficient manner and to avoid the risk of failing to comply with the regulations. It is a misconception to think ‘because I can navigate with paper, I can navigate with ECDIS’.”