Thursday, January 23, 2014

eNav 2013: Big Data Dead Ahead for the Bridge

By Michael A. Moore

A tsunami of data is headed straight for the bridge of every commercial vessel above 500 GT around the world – and the deadline is looming to figure out how to deal with that data overload in a way that makes navigation safer instead of more dangerously complex.

The electronic navigation data tsunami started out simply enough – the intention was to provide up to date and accurate data by means of electronic charts to navigators and pilots – the goal was to make commercial shipping safer and more efficient.

That simple idea has grown exponentially to the point where the scope of electronic navigation has become “to establish an integrated information environment that reaches beyond the shipboard environment,” said Michael Sollosi, chief of the Coast Guard’s Office of Navigation Systems, in the opening statement to Pacific Maritime Magazine’s eNavigation Conference 2013. Some of the best minds and top decision makers in the industry gathered in Seattle for the mid-November conference to share information and experiences about the current state of electronic navigation implementation, regulations, technology, and its legal implications. The rapid rate and complexity of change confronting the transition from paper to cyber and how different stakeholders are dealing with those challenges were the underlying themes in every presentation and panel of the conference.

The Coast Guard – charged with writing regulations plus adapting its entire system of navigation aids to meet the challenges posed by the new technology – views electronic navigation as an integrated system that will do more than provide position information. “The new technologies will incorporate new ways of providing navigation and situational information to the bridge as well as shoreside stakeholders without leaving older mariners and vessels that are not integrated with the system too far behind,” said Mike Sollosi. “Shore organizations will be able to deliver more information to the mariner,” he said. “That information will include virtual visual aids where there is a time or environmental constraint.”

Sollosi cites Arctic ice and tropical coral as environments where an ECDIS chart could show virtual visual aids that would be difficult if not impossible to physically install. “We are replacing physical visual aids with electronic wherever possible,” said Sollosi. “However, physical visual references – such as buoys and lights – will be with us for a long time to come.” An integrated ‘aids to navigation’ system will have to contain enough visual references to operate independently of any electronic system.

User involvement in the evaluation process is critical before making changes in the aids to navigation system, he emphasized.

“Before the Coast Guard deployed their first set of synchronized flashing buoys in the San Francisco bar channel, they tested the different possible configurations with the San Francisco Bar Pilots on the California Maritime Academy’s simulator,” he said. “That not only allowed us to implement the optimal buoy configuration, it saved a lot of money.”

Sollosi mentioned numerous other examples of how virtual visual aids to navigation can be used to help the Coast Guard make the nation’s waterways safer to navigate while keeping costs under control. The Coast Guard has felt the pinch of the federal budget cuts – the trend is to reduce costs and maintain service while traffic volume remains steady.

The Coast Guard’s goal that the regulations and technology of electronic navigation advance together is proving to be elusive, as the technology of the different components of electronic navigation systems leave the slow pace of regulation in the virtual dust.

The regulatory environment of electronic navigation needs to move faster, said Sollosi. He points out that the Coast Guard and other agencies charged with formulating the regulations must take into account the economic and operational aspects of any new regulations before they are put into effect.

The annual July deadlines for successively larger vessel ECDIS implementation are flying by as the final July 2018 date approaches. At the same time, the move toward integrated navigation and bridge control systems is accelerating.

That total integration of data, situational awareness and control integration is rapidly approaching the point where shore side managers can monitor – and conceivably control – the ship’s situation in real time. However, the Coast Guard does not see electronic navigation as an enabler of shoreside control of a ship, said Sollosi.

The Coast Guard may not see electronic navigation as an enabler of shoreside control, but conference speaker Alan Weigel, a specialist in maritime law with Blank Rome, actively warns against it.

Weigel’s perspective on big data’s assault on the bridge via integrated systems is from the risk management standpoint.

“The fundamental question is – as shipboard technology improves to the point of giving owners the ability to monitor the performance of shipboard systems and the actions of watch keepers in real time – will owners essentially have ‘continuous’ privity and knowledge of the conditions on their vessels?” he said.

“If yes, the vessel is now continuously under an owner’s control and the owner is now obligated to use communication capabilities to correct unseaworthy conditions and negligent actions as they occur. That obligation to use due diligence will apply even when the vessel is not in port.”

Weigel recommends that owners leave real-time access to the bridge to the captain and crew – and focus on limiting their liability as much as possible by ensuring the ship has the best possible information, equipment and properly trained crew.

“Now is the time for the shipping industry to force the insurers to take a close look at their equipment. The incentive to implement electronic navigation best practices is the savings in insurance and legal costs,” he said.

“The courts are now more familiar with and accepting of electronic navigation – they actually expect that kind of data in court. We call it the iPhone effect – eNav data is fundamentally changing maritime litigation.”

The legal status of AIS has progressed from a “notable development,” but “not conclusive evidence” to “the authenticity and accuracy of the VTS/AIS recording was not disputed.” “ECDIS is now accepted as conclusive evidence of vessel position, and the voyage data recorder (VDR) is accepted as the maritime equivalent of the aviation black box,” he said. The new technology can expand an owner’s legal obligations, but it can also be an invaluable tool to manage risk before accidents happen. The VDR is perhaps the most useful – and potentially damning in case of litigation – of the new shipboard electronic tools, according to Weigel. He sees a parallel in the aviation industry’s use of the black box for pro-active risk reduction.

“The maritime industry can use the VDR the same way aviation uses the flight data recorder (FDR),” said Weigel. “The International Civil Aviation Organization calls for gathering and analyzing data recorded during routine flights to improve flight crew performance, operating procedures and flight training.

“The problem for the marine industry is that most VDRs only record 12 hours of data, plus they are not checked on a regular basis.”

Weigel notes that the Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF) has published a set of guidelines on the pro-active use of the VDR, and calls for the development of a low-cost approach to extend recording duration as well as for the regular download of stored data. “The legal implications for this use of the VDR are no different than a log book review,” he said. “But this cannot be just a paper exercise. The first data analysis should take place on board to ensure quality – then it is transmitted to the owner or manager for in-depth events analysis. Where I have a problem are the proposals to download the data to shore in real time.”

Training is major point of weakness in the implementation and use of the VDR and other electronic navigation tools, said Weigel.

“There are ECDIS training requirements under the SOLAS Manila Amendments,” he said. “But being certified does not mean you are competent. The current training requirements don’t meet that standard.”

Weigel cites the case of the CSL Acadian, which collided with mooring dolphins at excess speed, as an example of what can happen without proper training in the competent use of the new technological tools. “The master failed to save the VDR data,” said Weigel. “There was an alleged lack of training and no set procedures. The CSL ship captain destroyed a wealth of additional information that would have been probative.

“Within twelve hours of the event, he was supposed to have pushed the ‘save button’ on the SVDR system (like a black box on an airplane). He did not save the evidence. This meant that it was later overwritten.”

The court turned that captain’s omission into destruction of evidence which resulted in a complete inability to defend the case.

The Paperless Solution
The importance of proper training – and updated training on a regular basis – is a lesson that has not been lost on SeaRiver Maritime, according to Christian Hempstead of Hempstead Maritime Training. “The training objective is simple – show me safe navigation using ECDIS,” he said. Sea River has decided that a major factor in making electronic navigation safe is to rapidly phase out their use of paper charts as backups for ECDIS.

“SeaRiver has decided that the best way for them to go is totally paperless,” said Hempstead. “The concern with hybrid practices, at least at SeaRiver, is that neither the paper-based navigation nor the ECDIS-based support is being done thoroughly.”

There are apparent gaps occurring in both, and the gaps vary across the population of watch officers. Management sees this as raising the probability of a safety-critical incident. In 2014 SeaRiver Maritime will take delivery of two new Aframax tankers fitted with fully integrated bridges including ECDIS/planning networks. These new ships, the S/R Liberty Bay and S/R Eagle Bay, will replace two older tankers, and join one other presently fitted with only a single ECDIS meant to support paper-based navigation.

To develop and rehearse paperless navigation procedures and skills, SeaRiver management intends to take on ECDIS refresher training in a 5-year cycle.

“Considering what is in store for the advancement of ENC data transfer standards, such refresher training will likely gain a relevance not seen before in the maritime profession,” said Hempstead.

That transition to paperless navigation received a big nudge in October when NOAA announced the agency would no longer publish navigation charts – that paper charts will still be available through private print-on-demand partners.

“We look on the elimination of paper charts as an opportunity to get more information to the public much faster than was possible with the print cycle,” said Captain Shepard Smith, NOAA’s marine chart division chief. “The print cycle controlled the information flow – it presented a big structural barrier to updating.

“E-charts contain more information, they allow for more precise positioning of critical features, and better support for water level integration with charts to manage under keel clearance risk.”

Electronic pdf’s of paper charts are available for free at least through January 22, 2014, from NOAA at – these are raster versions of the paper charts and the resolution has been increased from 250 to 400 dpi, which improves legibility.

The next big leap in electronic charts will be from the current S-57 standard to S-100. “In S-57, the data model is embedded with the file format and updating a transfer mechanism would interfere with data structure and content,” said Christian Hemsptead. “S-100 provides the framework for the development of the S-101, next generation of ENC products and other digital hydro-graphic and marine geo-spatial information –in 5-7 years the transition will begin from S-57 to S-101.”

“NOAA is working on bathymetric overlays using S-100,” said Shepard. “Working with the USACE and our own hydrographic team, we are developing a high resolution bathymetric overlay for dynamic areas.

“We are excited about the opportunities offered by the web, and embrace new computer technologies, such as tablet computers – ECDIS is a 1993 protocol. The web will allow us to host ENC’s as a layer – boundaries, traffic and other information will be available as overlays.”

The data tsunami may be headed for the bridge, but NOAA and Captain Shepard Smith are getting out their surfboards.

Over the next few issues, Pacific Maritime Magazine will be publishing a series of articles covering various aspects of electronic navigation and bridge integration and the impact of the new technologies on navigation, safety and ship operations.