PROTECT - Piracy Prevention and Commercial Navigation in Insecure Waters

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The importance of maritime transport to the European and world economy cannot be overstated. Around 90% of global trade is carried by the ~50,000 merchant ships in the world vessel fleet which call at Europe's 186 container ports. The exchanges between the European Union and the rest of the world represent 45% by value and 70% by tonnage of that trade and this exchange is growing at around 13% per annum. In this context, the impact of maritime piracy activities can have serious economic ramifications. Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP), an independent US based non-profit organization estimates that the per-incident cost of Somali piracy for 2012 was $82.7 million. OBP puts the figure of the total 2012 economic cost of Somali piracy alone at $5.7 to $6.1 billion. Though the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) clearly sets out the legal framework for combating piracy and coordinated civil, and military effort by the international community has yielded some positive results, effectiveness is still limited by the fact that maritime international laws still require domestic legislation to prosecute, and sovereign states have discretion in their construction of domestic legislation on piracy.  Use of military force has had a positive effect in areas around the Horn of Africa but with considerable cost in resource and monitory terms. Piracy activity is increasingly moving to the Gulf of Guinea as evidenced by the fact that as of the first half of 2013, the Internal Maritime Organisation (IMO) recorded three times more incidents in the Gulf of Guinea compared to off the Somali coast.

Many shipping operators now consider the use of armed protection as one of the more effective means of ensuring safe passage between trading locations. However, the cost of armed guards is reported to have risen by almost 80% from 2011 to 2012 resulting in additional costs of between $1.15 and $1.53 billion. Other direct consequences of piracy include increased fuel cost of rerouting, increased insurance premiums, and adverse effects in some communities on tourism and fishing.

The PROTECT project aims to exploit existing systems and infrastructure in conjunction with applicable space based assets to provide cost-effective  added-value technology centred services that provide improved situational awareness to both on-board and shore based stakeholders, based on real-time innovative integration of piracy and sensor information/data.

Avanti communications, Thales,  Brimatech, Assimila and StormGeo, in close cooperation with a broad spectrum of users and stakeholders along the  maritime transport value chain, will leverage expertise and knowhow in satellite communications technology, maritime surveillance, knowledge of the industry as well as lessons learnt from other initiatives to develop the PROTECT system.

The project objectives were to engage with the maritime piracy user and stakeholder community to ascertain the challenges and shortcomings in current counter-piracy systems and operational processes to identify gaps and propose suitable services. One of the primary motivations for the project was to investigate how some of the counter-piracy and situational awareness capabilities (including secure information sharing) that are currently the preserve of the military can be brought into the civil domain.  

More specifically, the project undertook the following;

  • Identified and evaluated the economic and non-economic viability, critical success factors and risks pertaining to the implementation of the proposed system as a sustainable service
  • Identified the most critical elements needed for improved situational awareness, then specified and developed a proof-of-concept to validate the feasibility of these elements
  • The project provided a roadmap towards implementation of sustainable operational services. 

Users and their needs

The target users will include the following:

  • Maritime security organisations
  • International shipping organisations
  • Maritime safety
  • Marine insurers
  • Maritime advisory authorities

The crew aboard vessels, primarily masters, shore based personnel, as well as maritime counter-piracy authorities require the following capabilities for improved situational awareness:

  • The capability to identify suspect vessels  e.g. distinguish fishing boats from pirate boats and skiffs or motherships
  • The capability to track and monitor pirate boats/vessels once identified
  • Long-range monitoring of vessels along a route i.e. the capability to monitor vessels further ahead along the planned route e.g. beyond the 20 nautical miles capability that is currently provided
  • Capability to access information on suspicious piracy related activity along scheduled routes
  • Capability to predict or identify threats in advance and receive appropriate prior notification
  • Capability to optimise vessel routing taking into account weather information, fuel efficiency and risk of piracy attack

Service/ system concept

The proposed system concept is focused on capability of innovative aggregation, processing, fusion and correlation of historic, encyclopaedic as well as real time intelligence information in any format and from varied sources into a single integrated piracy information data bank. Users can then set business rules and customise the output from the piracy information data bank to suit their specific needs e.g. the abnormal activities to be notified about, specific geographical locations to focus on, etc.

Additional services proposed during the study include the following:

1. Capability to detect suspicious vessels by exploiting ship borne radar collaboratively combined with vessel movement pattern analysis to identify suspect vessels.

A prototype was developed that demonstrated that it is possible to interface with on-board shipborne radar to collect information about objects in the vicinity of a vessel and transmit this information via Satcom. This information was fed to Thales’s Pattern of Life algorithm to support identification of suspicious activities.

2. Capability to enable non-pirate vessels to be identified in High Risk Areas (HRA) exclusively via GPS and SATCOMs.

Satellite AIS information was collected using Luxspace’s Gloabal AIS data service and was fed to Thales’s Pattern of Life to support identification of non-pirate vessels. The on-board application also enabled the vessel’s GPS coordinates to be sent via Satcom.

3. Capability to exploit the encyclopaedic piracy information data contained within the system for auxiliary services such as;

  • A smartphone or tablet device application that can be used to ensure compliance with BMP4.
  • A smartphone or tablet device application that can be used by authorised personnel to upload information in real time, including photos of suspicious activity into the system.

This feature was not considered as critical to demonstrate the feasibility of the PROTECT system.

4. Capability to re-route vessels taking into account likelihood of piracy incident, fuel cost, weather…

The feasibility study fed Stormgeo’s routing solution with the high risk areas generated by the PROTECT system. Stormgeo’s routing solution was able to suggest alternatives routes to avoid the high risk areas. The suggested routes also took into account fuel consumption and the scheduled arrival time.

5. Capability to utilise EO imagery to identify piracy vessels, skiffs and dhows will be accommodated during implementation of the proposed piracy information data bank.

The possibility to utilise EO imagery to identify piracy activities was analysed as part of the state-of-the-art activities. However, the economic ramifications on the cost of the system of incorporating this capability were not deemed to be sustainable. 

Space Added Value

The space assets that have been used are:

  • Satellite communication:  For sending and receiving applicable situational awareness data in near-real-time aggregated from various on-board and shore based sources/providers.
  • Satellite navigation and satellite AIS: For geo-localising vessels and activity patterns in support of distinguishing suspect vessels or boats.
  • Earth observation imagery: To support identification of pirate mother ships, skiffs and boats as well as on-land piracy activity.

Product Benefits

The main benefit of the PROTECT system is improved situational awareness across  the international maritime transport value chain resulting in the following:

  • Enhanced accuracy of situational awareness information via real-time aggregation and processing of  multiple data  sets
  • Identification of piracy activity in advance via multi-sensor layered surveillance so that appropriate personnel can make informed decisions thus saving lives
  • Greater surveillance area through use of space assets
  • Improved maritime operational procedures

Product Features

For civil shipping, reliable situation awareness is often limited, with information often not available or out of date. The situation is not helped with problems of passing situational awareness between the military and civil domains and associated security issues.

The PROTECT system will be primarily focused on capability to aggregate, process/analyse and correlate piracy related data in real-time, irrespective of its source (e.g. web pages, applicable external databases, direct human input etc.) or format (e.g. textual, imagery, audio-visual, and cartographic) into a comprehensive situational awareness depiction which relevant users/stakeholders can utilise to make informed decisions.  With an all-inclusive and up to date integrated record of piracy related information, a varied set of additional value added services can be developed.  For example providing up to date and accurate situational awareness data to ship captains and vessel owners is vital to enable them to plan routes to avoid pirate areas and to provide early warning of potential pirate activity. This is equally vital for regional anti-piracy centres to monitor and keep a watch over piracy activity. Space assets will play an important role in ensuring that real-time situational awareness information of global relevance can be shared quickly and reliably between various non-co-located stakeholders as shown below.

Key Issues

The objective of this feasibility study is to pave the way for a follow-up demonstration project that will exploit the capabilities of space based assets to develop viable services towards improving situational awareness. To achieve this objective, the study will define and/or evaluate the following:

  1. The shortcomings and challenges in the existing processes across the international maritime transport value
  2. The user needs/requirements that will help define services to address the short comings and challenges in I above.
  3. The relevant space assets that can be exploited as part of a solution. 
  4. The critical factors (economic and non-economic, technical and non-technical) that must be addressed for a sustainable service, including appropriate engagement between national and international authorities as well as users and stakeholders across the value chain to understand the issues so that sustainable tailored solutions can be promoted.

Any other factors that need to be considered such as engagement of additional users and stakeholders in a follow-up demonstration project leading to operational services.

Current Status

The final review meeting was held on the 29th of January 2015. The outcome of the roadmap and recommendations task was presented at the final review meeting as well as the finalised viability analysis.

A number of players and stakeholders in the maritime transport sector supported the study, these include Herning shipping, Gardline shipping, and South Asia and Africa Regional Port Stability Cooperative (SAARPSCO).

Having demonstrated both the technical and economic viability of the PROTECT concept, the consortium is ideally placed to undertake a follow-on phase to develop an operational/commercial service. However, due to lack of consensus within the consortium on service development and delivery, the demonstration phase is not being pursued in the immediate. 

Status Date

Updated: 28 September 2016 - Created: 15 February 2014