Thursday, March 31, 2011

AIS Data Sharing-A tool of diplomacy

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council magazine by CDR Fran Cloe, USN, National MDA Coordination Office Executive Secretariat.

Bringing together politically, culturally, and financially disparate maritime nations to share maritime data requires a technology that is both flexible and universal-a simple tool that will help build trust and cooperation among all maritime nations. The Automatic Identification System (AIS) is such a tool. AIS is a shipboard system that transmits information such as vessel name, registration number, call sign, Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI), position, course, speed, and other navigational information via VHF.

AIS data sharing is:

Simple. AIS data is non-classified and can be obtained and shared through inexpensive, off-the-shelf technology. A nation may join an AIS network by contributing AIS data via the Internet. In most circumstances, a new member can connect to a chosen network with simple written instructions or remote technical assistance.

Universal. Automatic Identification System transceivers and antennas can be easily obtained from marine stores or manufacturers worldwide. With a minimal investment from several hundred to several thousand dollars, even economically disadvantaged states are able to participate. The networks available to share AIS data are diverse and often open to any government willing to share its own data.

Flexible. Governments choosing to join established networks such as the Marine Safety and Security Information System or IALA-NET need only contribute data from one AIS receiver in order to receive all data contributed from other members. Many governments, however, choose to contribute multiple port cities, or their entire national network of receivers, in an effort to provide greater awareness. This flexibility allows a minimal financial investment for members new to information sharing. Additionally, governments can then use the global AIS picture for whatever purpose is most relevant to their situations.

Taking AIS to the Next Level
One other advantage of Automatic Identification System networks comes when regional partners build more advanced information exchanges. Italy's Virtual Regional Maritime Traffic Center began as an exchange of AIS, radar, and satellite data among Italian law enforcement, customs, and military agencies. It quickly developed into a cost-effective forum in which over 20 nations known as the "wider Mediterranean community" now share knowledge to pool resources and build maritime domain awareness.

Despite the success of recent initiatives, there are still several arguments against the effectiveness of Automatic Identification System data sharing:
  • Not all ships are required to carry AIS transceivers, and even ships that do carry the equipment can easily turn it off. However, this is balanced by the use of AIS as an anomaly detector.
  • Automatic Identification System range is limited, and reception is usually no more than 25 miles. This is effective for coastal reception, but leaves the vast majority of shipping traffic out of range of the shore-based receivers. Both commercial and defense options exist to track this traffic via satellite or other means.
  • AIS data sharing specifically encounters a proprietary barrier to sharing. Several maritime companies offer commercial AIS sharing for which they charge a monthly or annual fee. Legal issues may arise when a government offers the same data without fee or with a government subsidy. For this reason, it is currently restricted to sharing between governments.
  • Culture or history may challenge AIS data sharing. Nations that historically have not cooperated with each other often find it difficult to move beyond traditional attitudes of isolation and control of information.
Looking Ahead
Global maritime information sharing is nearing the tipping point. While bilateral agreements remain important, "many-to-many" information sharing networks are overtaking them in value and importance.

De-centralized global grids, such as those that have facilitated the phenomenal growth of cellular phone service, tend to provide greater value to individual participants than can be provided by any single centralized hierarchal organization.

In the maritime community, AIS data sharing is gaining significant ground as a method by which to set the baseline for maritime information sharing. The simplicity, low cost, and accessibility of the system make it a diplomatic tool that allows nations to participate equally, and to derive real use for their specific needs.

As more maritime nations join AIS networks, they can begin to build more complex regional maritime exchanges, and ultimately, a global maritime exchange.
The resulting increase in global MDA will build trust and cooperation among all maritime nations.

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