Monday, November 15, 2010

eNavigation - Where Do We Go From Here

By R. G. Moore

Significant progress has been made in the implementation of eNavigation, particularly with respect to the “Shipboard Core”. We should also keep in mind the increasing number of more general applications, as represented by the EU-developed River Information System (RIS), Maritime Navigation Information Services (MarNIS), EfficenSEA and – better known to those in the US – Maritime Domain Awareness.

Progress to date has revealed things that need correction and/or improvement as eNavigation develops, and raised questions about where things should go in the future. Perhaps it’s time to take a systematic look at both issues. In doing that, it may be useful to review the principles used by the IMO and others to guide eNavigation’s implementation. A review may also help to reinforce several key truths; that eNavigation is not in and of itself a technology, and that it is being designed to serve information needs across the entire maritime community, not just the portion afloat.

To recap, the IMO’s Safety of Navigation Sub-Committee enumerated nine principles to guide eNavigation’s development.

• Holistic integration of all existing and emerging tools
• Clear ownership and control
• Voyage characteristics
• Attractive to all stakeholders
• Pragmatic solutions
• Modular and scalable
• Application software and data
• Information security
• Phased implementation

The two Principles highlighted in the list strike me as those which are particularly significant to the review process, since they imply more than may be readily apparent. They also have two things in common. Achievement will be difficult, and successful implementation of eNavigation depends upon their realization.

Principle No. 1, Holistic integration of all existing and emerging tools, has a simple meaning only if one limits the definition of “tools” and fails to include humans – the users – among them. It suggests a series of questions, starting with several about the “Shipboard Core”.

What remains to be done to fully integrate existing shipboard components?
GPS, AIS, ECDIS and radar are key components of the “Core”, and their integration remains in development. A useful analogy might be drawn between these devices and the evolution of computers. Before operating systems and programs evolved to their current state it sometimes felt as if we devoted more time to the care, feeding of and learning about the computer than we did in producing useful work. It can be argued that mariners are now at the same stage as the 1980’s computer user, spending far too much time and effort getting the tools operating correctly. There needs to be a concerted effort to integrate, translate and display the data these tools generate in order to provide unambiguous information immediately useful to support decision-making.

Considering just the shipboard element of eNavigation, what remains to be integrated?
Assuming these key components are integrated, what others of the current tools need to be added to the mix? A starting point in thinking about “what else” could be Marine Safety Information (MSI), a category which I believe must be integrated with other material if the IMO’s goal of the “...harmonized collection, integration, exchange and presentation of maritime information onboard and ashore by electronic means to enhance berth to berth navigation and related services, for safety and security at sea and protection of the marine environment” is to be achieved. As an example, NAVTEX in its present form is hardly an example of seamless presentation.

Then too, the very definition of MSI has been expanding, particularly by the ISM Code. Consider the language of but two sections of the Code’s recent revisions:

“The company should establish procedures, plans and instructions, including checklists as appropriate, for key shipboard operations concerning the safety of the personnel, ship and protection of the environment.”

“The company should identify potential emergency shipboard situations, and establish procedures to respond to them.”

One of the things this points out is that both shipboard and shoreside management need to be on the same page, suggesting that mariners should have easily accessible “crib sheets” to refer to during that critically short period before things go to hell. Given the trend to criminalize mistakes in judgment or departure from published procedures “seamless integration” of this sort of information may be of critical importance. Other changes may also be required. Those to consider include an increasing standardization of procedures and practices, and extending vetting procedures and surveys to include how well ships are prepared and capable of dealing with the growing mass of such data.

How much is enough?
The pressure to reduce crew sizes, coupled with technological developments, has resulted in bridge watchstanders being tasked with functions not directly related to the safety of navigation. During open ocean passage such duties may not impose risk, but in congested waters and on soundings they can become dangerous distractions. The same can be said of adding unnecessarily to the other data and information burden that watchstanders deal with. This suggests that the tasks, decision support needs and manning levels should be carefully examined and, if warranted, limits imposed to insure that safety of navigation remains paramount.

Moving on to Principle No. 4, one might think it self-evident that eNavigation has to be attractive to all stakeholders. The language used by the IMO in describing this principle struck me as particularly telling and far-reaching, and some is worth repeating here because of the thoughts it triggers.

It is critical that eNavigation must meet the needs and expectations and overcome the concerns of users both afloat and ashore as well as other stakeholders.

The paper goes on to define stakeholders as “…everyone that has an interest or stake, including governments, international organizations, etc.” A preliminary listing of these includes twenty categories of shipborne users and thirty-four categories ashore. That listing, while not repeated here, underscores the breadth of eNavigation applications being planned and the degree to which it will affect our world.

The IMO’s articulation of this principle also provides a vehicle for restating several points fundamental to the eNavigation concept. First, the goals of eNavigation are to deliver improvements in safety, security and protection of the marine environment and at the same time, of at least equal importance to universal acceptance, address efficiency and commercial considerations. Second, eNavigation must not reduce existing levels of safety while delivering tangible benefits to all stakeholders without imposing undue burdens; and third, eNavigation should be adopted on a voluntary, benefit-driven basis rather than as a mandatory requirement (emphasis supplied).

Lurking within this principle is the issue of costs and benefits, the ultimate distribution of those among the various stakeholders, and the role of governments in developing and promoting eNavigation. Cost is a major issue for both private and public entities and I suspect that without strong national-level leadership it will be the major challenge for the immediate future. Aggravating the problem is the reality that many costs become due up front while benefits at all levels seem to be deferred to some future date. The problems this represents are illustrated by even a superficial examination of the shipboard issues involved, ignoring for a moment the greater ones of infrastructure, etc. For the ships, investments must be made in the equipment forming eNavigation’s shipboard core. To those are added manning costs associated with that core, given the impact upon competency and training requirements, and finally the modification of procedures and/or practices to fully incorporate eNavigation into day-to-day operations (think again about ISM requirements). Exacerbating this issue is the fact that many of the costs will remain unquantifiable until greater experience is gained. And then, too, many benefits may well depend upon achieving full implementation of eNavigation not just afloat but throughout the maritime community.

I’m concerned that in the United States there has been an absence of the essential leadership role on the part of government, coupled with a desire to reap benefits while avoiding research and infrastructure costs. The enduring downward pressure on the Coast Guard’s aids to navigation budget may represent a case in point. That example begs the real question, however. The government’s role in eNavigation needs to be clearly defined, responsibilities and funding allocated, and vigorously pursued in concert with the private sector if marine transportation in the United States is to fully benefit from eNavigation.

This is a very superficial treatment of future needs, but I hope that even though limited in scope it may help encourage an examination and discussion of eNavigation and its future. Too little attention is being paid to these aspects and now’s the time to get going.

R.G. Moore can be contacted at