Enhancing Handling and Safety of Ships at Sea

Bethany Stich, Director, UNO Transportation Institute, University of New Orleans
Bethany Stich, Director, UNO Transportation Institute, University of New Orleans

Bethany Stich, Director, UNO Transportation Institute, University of New Orleans

Waterborne freight shipping is increasing. In 2012, 975 million tons of American goods (imports and exports combined) moved by water, and this figure is projected to increase to 1,070 million by 2040 (Federal Highway Administration 2015). As this volume increases, traditional methods of navigation – lacking the capacity for sufficient integration of vessel location and speed at both the ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore levels – need to be improved by information technologies that facilitate real-time awareness of vessel speed, direction, and location to all stakeholders. Additionally, increased efficiency of vessel movement from berth to berth by incorporating these technologies lessens travel time for waterborne freight, yielding increased profits for shipping companies and commodities producers, as well as facilitating economic productivity (Baldauf et al. 2014).

 ​ Now that the technology has advanced, the narrative that remote shipping is safer, is driving further technological developments​  

Yet, these benefits bring concern regarding the integrity of shipping cybersecurity. Cyber warfare and terrorism are becoming national and international threats. Nevertheless, international bodies such as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) of the U.N. and the International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities (IALA) hold that the benefits of universal electronic navigation (E-Nav) outweigh the cybersecurity risks.

The current working definition of E-Nav is the “the collection, integration and display of maritime information aboard and ashore by electronic means to enhance berth-to-berth navigation and related services, safety and security at sea, and the protection of the marine environment” (IMO 2008). In 2007, twenty-three nations convened in London to discuss ways in which E-Nav would affect maritime law and mariners’ professional development. The IALA, on behalf of the IMO, requested all maritime stakeholders globally to convey their needs concerning E-Nav. The implications for facilitation of Sea Transport Management (STM), a term referencing a greater reliance on emerging Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) technologies rather than traditional on-board radar systems, was discussed (Norwegian Coastal Administration 2014, Stupak 2014). An example of the evolving capabilities of the E-Nav paradigm is the European Union’s MONALISA 2.0 navigational system. Due to the number of collaborations between various navigational technology innovators involved in the development of MONALISA 2.0, this version of E-Navis promoted as having the potential to revolutionize the shipping industry via the maritime equivalent of air traffic control systems, based on a fully integrated satellite-based Maritime Cloud (Sea Traffic Management Validation Project 2015). However, concerns have repeatedly been raised in the maritime community about how dangerous it can be for bridge personnel to lean too heavily on current and emerging E-Nav technologies to the exclusion of traditional navigation (Yousefi & Seyedjavadin 2012). These methods are colloquially referred to in the maritime community as “looking out the window.”

Some governments have expressed concern about the proprietary nature of such technology. Potential monopolization resulting from this kind of arrangement is a threat to safety, in which maritime actors without access to these proprietary databases will not have the latest data. The potential for unregulated commercial dissemination of bad data exists as well (Rainey 2013). This brings up legal concerns regarding E-Nav. Questions of trust in the rapidly advancing technologies on the part of an older generation are intensifying. For example, it is now possible to navigate a vessel with an “app” on a smartphone. Liability issues arise with technologies developed apart from international regulatory agencies. In an accident derived from overreliance on a navigational app, or that of a shore-controlled ship, who is at fault? The developer of the technology, the mariner, and the shipping company are all involved. If a mariner does not use the newest technology and an accident could have been avoided had they done so, are they at fault for ignoring data?

Though the IMO has held to its position of E-Nav as supporting, rather than supplanting, the traditional navigation, the shipping industry is pushing ahead with a remote shipping paradigm. When E-Nav originated with the IMO, the narrative,“increased safety at sea,” drove the technology. Now that the technology has advanced, the narrative that remote shipping is safer, is driving further technological developments.

The aggressive promotion of a safety-centered narrative on the part of organized mariners, focusing on the lived experiences which they can bring to the table, illustrating their point of view regarding the dangers of unmanned shipping – no one “looking out the window” – can form the basis of a mariner-centered pushback against automated remote shipping. On the other hand, picking those aspects of E-Nav which do have the potential to augment traditional methods may result in an adoption of the technology simply because mariners for many years have been successful in the transportation of goods and services. Mariners when informed/involved have helped develop the best, most cost effective technology in use today. It is vital they remain a key part of the development and implementation of E-Nav moving forward.

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