Blue Belt - Space Based AIS complementing Terrestrial AIS Systems

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The EMSA (European Maritime Safety Agency) Blue Belt pilot project was initiated by the EU Belgian Presidency and endorsed on 2 December 2010 by the EU Council of Transport Ministers to be implemented by EMSA. It objective is to facilitate Short Sea Shipping and support EU customs authorities providing them with additional information about ships, their journey and their cargoes within the EU. The objective of the project is to combine official customs tools and vessel monitoring and tracking tools, in order to facilitate custom procedures and assist customs decision-making process.

The IAP (ARTES 20 element) demonstration project aims to support the EMSA Blue Belt Project described above, by providing a service based on satellite based AIS data complementing the terrestrial data. Such a service would detect offshore vessels equipped with AIS tracking devices, impossible to detect by shore-based systems alone. The EMSA project is therefore supported through the tracking of a number of "blue ships", which undergo the demonstration phase, and for the ships in the areas of interest. This is achieved thanks to the acquisition of space-based AIS data and integration with the terrestrially collected data. The data delivered will be assessed in regards to quality, reliability, and suitability to meet end-user and stakeholder requirements. The activity will thus demonstrate whether SAT-AIS services can be an added-value to the terrestrial AIS data for such ship tracking based services.

Objectives of the service

The main objective of the ESA Blue Belt demonstration project is to support the EMSA Blue Belt pilot project, through the acquisition and provision of space-based AIS data from existing space-assets, in order to complement the terrestrial data.

More generally, it aims at demonstrating that such satellite based services can provide an added-value as complement and back up to the terrestrial AIS network, for the provision of services based on these data.

Users and their needs

The main users of the described service will be namely the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) and European custom authorities identified at European Commission (EC) level for the Blue Belt pilot project.

As part of the Blue Belt Initiative, this ESA Demonstration project aims at offering global tracking capabilities, based on SAT-AIS technology. The needs expressed by the users are to track the corresponding Blue ships whatever their location (i.e. including the high seas, out of range for VHF coverage), thus demonstrating that satellite based AIS data can provide a suitable and relevant complement and back-up solution to terrestrial AIS data for tracking ships.

Although the tracking of Blue Ships is worldwide, the main area of interest is Europe (specifically the southern coast of the Mediterranean Sea (North Africa), and southern Atlantic approach to Europe including the Bay of Biscay).  Within this zone, all data/ships will be collected.

Service/ system concept

The Blue Belt concept is based on the combination of vessel monitoring/tracking information provided through the pilot project, with existing customs tools, in order to provide a higher degree of certainty regarding vessel voyage information and support an easier decision making process for customs formalities.

The SAT-AIS data will be used as a complement to the terrestrial AIS data.

Space Added Value

The main added-value of SAT-AIS data for the Blue Belt initiative, compared to terrestrial AIS, is to provide an extended ship tracking coverage, ensuring a continuous tracking of the Blue Ships which undergo the demonstration.

Product Benefits

It is expected that this project demonstrate the added-value of SAT-AIS data for the Blue Belt service and for any other Blue Belt-like services, as complement and back-up to terrestrial AIS information. The knowledge of the actual vessel journey beyond the coastal region is a fundamental need of the Custom Authorities, and can only be achieved through the utilization of satellite AIS data.

Product Features

The real-time SAT-AIS service will be delivered to EMSA by the Prime Contractor (CLS), based on data provided by three different SAT-AIS data providers, i.e. KSAT/FFI, exactEarth Europe, and Luxspace.

To provide such services, CLS will connect to the SAT-AIS data providers, receive and process the data and transfer them to EMSA using the EMSA SafeSeaNet Streaming interface. Furthermore these data will be made available to ESA in near real-time during all the period of the demonstration, through the CLS web visualisation platform THEMIS. Figure 1 below is an illustration of the CLS system architecture and tools used for the data delivery and the monitoring of the system on a 24/7 basis.

Figure 1

SAT-AIS data will be provided to EMSA for a 9 month period. The project will deliver SAT-AIS data of:

  • the 252 "Blue ships" which undergo the demonstration, and which are sailing to and from Europe (worldwide coverage).
  • all ships (i.e. "blue ships" and non-"blue ships") operating in the following areas of interest: southern coast of the Mediterranean Sea (North Africa), and southern Atlantic approach to Europe including the Bay of Biscay. See Figure 2 below.
Figure 2


Key Issues

One of the most important aspects of this project is to ensure a permanent and in near real-time data feed to the End-Users through EMSA (using all external interfaces with their own constraints). The overall performance of the provided SAT-AIS data in terms of detection probability, time update interval and timeliness is another key point which will be assessed during the project.

Current Status

The service has been operational since October 20th 2011, 13:00 UTC, as planned, with data provided by the two space AIS data providers KSAT/FFI and exactEarth Europe (It has been a challenge for the CLS Team to start the data delivery in only three weeks after the kick-off meeting).

EMSA is receiving SAT-AIS data since that date, and can rely on this new data feed when reporting to European Custom Authorities within the Blue Belt framework.

End of March 2012, a new partner, LuxSpace, was added to the team, via a CCN, for the delivery of an additional space AIS data stream in order to complement the KSAT/FFI and exactEarth Europe data and further increase the quality of the information provided to the Customs Authorities.

The service stopped end of July as per contract. A detailed report was prepared by CLS and presented during the project Final Presentation to ESA, ESA Member States and EMSA on the 13th of September 2012. This presentation highlighted the main outcomes and lessons learned from the project. EMSA acknowledged the added-value and complementarity of the delivered space AIS data for the Blue Belt service, and mentioned that the European Commission is currently discussing the modalities for a permanent Blue Belt service and a corresponding "upgrade" of the customs rules. Furthermore, the project also provided a comprehensive and detailed review of relative and total performances of current Space based AIS capabilities vs. service requirements.

Status Date

Updated: 01 November 2012 - Created: 15 February 2014