SEMAFORS - the Ship Efficiency Monitoring, weAther Forecasting and Optimised Routing Service

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Without a doubt shipping is the most efficient mode of transportation for goods. 90 % of Europe's trade with the rest of the world and 43 % of intra-European trade is shipped through its seaports. This success has distracted attention away from the fact that CO2 emissions from the shipping industry as a whole - approximately 3% of global emissions -  are comparable to those of a major national economy. In the last decade legislators and industry have become more active in seeking solutions to improve efficiency and reduce emissions.

SEMAFORS, the Ship Efficiency Monitoring, weAther Forecasting and Optimised Routing Service is a user focused project in support of the shipping industry.  Resulting from initial studies started in 2008 the goal of the SEMAFORS project is to demonstrate that an economically justifiable and exploitable solution can be realised that will provide substantial fuel savings whilst providing a positive contribution to safety of operation and help improve port resource utilisation. The SEMAFORS concept seeks to gain improvements by integrating state-of the-art solutions for weather routing and route planning by taking advantage of terrestrial and space based data such as tidal and global ocean currents to enhance routing algorithms.

Objectives of the service

SEMAFORS will investigate, establish and demonstrate through sea trials a concept to improve ship fuel efficiency by providing the means to better planning, avoiding of adverse weather and by making better use of ocean currents.

SEMAFORS will integrate actual measured vessel performance, forecasted weather and accurate tidal and ocean current data obtained from space and terrestrial systems to optimise the voyage to reduce fuel costs, improve safety and reduce emissions.

The primary objective of SEMAFORS is to demonstrate that the SEMAFORS concept can be delivered meeting the needs of the shipping industry at an affordable price. Additionally, SEMAFORS aims to show that ocean sea currents can be forecast accurately enough to allow their use in routing and that data from shipping can be used in evaluating and improving ocean current forecasts.

SEMAFORS has set itself a number of business oriented goals which shall be verified during the demonstration phase:

  • Achieve up to a 1% fuel use reduction by making better use of  global sea currents;
  • Get a 2% reduction in fuel consumption by applying improved weather routing capabilities;
  • Get a fuel cost saving of 2% by simply better planning that computes the ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) of the vessel at its destination port based on its current progress, planned route, and expected weather along that route, which can use to fine-tune its RTA (Required Time of Arrival) of the route and arrival time at the destination port;
  • Provide a routing service based on vessel performance characteristics for specific weather and loading conditions targeting efficiency and safety;
  • Provide a service that delivers key performance indicators and efficiency reports tuned to the needs of Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plans (SEEMP) that users can tailor to their specific needs to quantify the net effect of measures taken.

Users and their needs

  • Vessel Owners / Operators
  • Vessel Captains
  • Charterers
  • Port Authorities

Vessel Owners / Operators

Vessel owners / vessel operators want capabilities to improve the vessel operational efficiency to be more cost effective. Reducing fuel costs is on the top of their list. In addition, they are confronted with regulations regarding emission reduction of vessels. Services which help them address these issues by providing valuable information in deciding how to minimize vessel fuel consumption, and hence reduce emission, while maintaining operational efficiency without jeopardizing safety of the vessel, cargo, and crew, are considered as needed. Offering a more reliable, environmentally conscious service will provide a market edge to the vessel owners/operators.

Vessel Captains

Easy to use service to plan and compare route alternatives that takes into account loading conditions and vessel motions. The ability to reliably determine ETA. Increased safety level for masters and crew.


Charterers want to be confident that the cargo will arrive on time in good state. However a more fuel efficient vessel will of course be attractive as often the charterer bears the fuel costs. 

Port Authorities

Port Authorities want to improve the port berths utilisation by aligning the arrival time of incoming vessels with the departure time of outgoing vessels. Furthermore, real-time information regarding the actual arrival time of an incoming vessel is required to determine whether the time slot allocated to the vessel is realisable so that it can potentially be re-assigned.

Service/ system concept

SEMAFORS will be implemented on a server-based architecture with a split installation. The onshore and on-board communication and operational mode differ to take into account communication constraints on-board, where the available bandwidth and the requirement to manage and limit communication costs inhibit continuous broadband connection to a shore based server.

Users will interact with the services by means of a Web interface.

SEMAFORS will provide the following services:

  • Monitoring
    Collection of vessel performance data to evaluate the vessel performance over time to identify possible fuel and operational efficiency improvements.
  • Forecasting
    Provision of weather forecasts along the planned route to help the vessel crew to avoid adverse weather conditions to maintain safety for crew, vessel and cargo.


  • Routing
    Provision of a route advice regarding the optimum route to sail for a set of given user constraints, like mandatory waypoints, ETA at waypoint, loading condition, safety limits, and operational limits.


Space Added Value

  • GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) Marine, Meteorological and ESA satellite data will be used to create weather forecasts
  • Satellite communication will be used for the exchange of data between vessel and shore
  • GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) information will be used to track the sailed route of vessels and to collocate MetOcean information with vessel performance data

Product Benefits

The expected benefits of SEMAFORS are:

  • Monitoring Service provides the user with a means to monitor and analyse performance data which provides valuable information regarding the vessel energy efficiency. This can be used to verify the benefits of energy efficiency applied measures (e.g. use of optimised routing, energy saving devices, hull coatings, etc.);
  • Support the implementation of the Ship Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP) requirements introduced by IMO (International Maritime Organization) and effective since 1 January 2013;
  • Use the Monitoring Service to fine-tuning the vessel propulsion model used by the Routing Service to improve routing;
  • Weather Forecasting Service will give the user information respect to adverse weather conditions along the planned route that can be used to take preventive measures to ensure safe operation;
  • Routing Service will provide the user with an advised optimum route compliant with operational constraints;
  • Using a multi-variant optimisation process “what-if analysis”, that can be performed to determine the preferred route.

Product Features

SEMAFORS will develop and demonstrate a service suite consisting of Ship Efficiency Monitoring, Weather Forecasting, and Routing Services to help the shipping industry and ports to achieve their efficiency goals.

By providing the services in an integrated solution SEMAFORS aims to accumulate the efficiency gains instead of optimising on one aspect only.

The Ship Efficiency Monitoring Service makes it possible to analyse the actual performance and effect of measures taken to improve efficiency. SEMAFORS provides the capability to gather vessel data such as log speed, heading, GPS track, fuel consumption, shaft power and RPM for analysis to show vessel performance, in particular energy efficiency performance en-route correlated to weather and sea conditions. This information can be used  for benchmarking purposes, to allow comparisons of voyages and perform trend analysis. The features of monitoring are based on the previous work performed by BMT ARGOSS in a feasibility study, and will be improved in the project, including the introduction of standard reporting.

Weather Forecasting Service provides weather forecasts along the planned route. This information will be used by vessel captains or fleet management to make decisions on changing routes to avoid adverse weather conditions that could affect safety and comfort and impose sailing speed restrictions.

Routing Service will provide accurate routing advice optimised against a wide range of criteria including required arrival time and fuel saving constraints but always taking into account safety of operation.

In this project the University of Reading will investigate new data and methods to use global ocean currents to benefit routing and other services.

The Service Architecture of SEMAFORS consists of an on-board part and onshore part. The on-board part of the service is responsible for gathering sensor values together with GPS data as part of the Monitoring Service, as well as offering  a user interface for the Weather Forecast and Routing Services.

Semafors System overview

Currently, communication between onshore and offshore is by means of e-mails exchanged using satellite communication links. Such an e-mail from the onboard part can contain monitoring data files, forecast or routing advice request.

Onshore the arriving requests and data are relayed to the associated service and processed. The Monitoring service manages the vessel performance data storing it in the vessel data storage and collocated it with MetOcean data to support filtering of vessel performance data on weather conditions. Requests to the Forecasting and Routing Service result in requested products being generated and returned to the user.

SEMAFORS offers secure communication and user access.


Key Issues

SEMAFORS will address the following key issues:

  • Improve efficiency to reduce fuel consumption;
  • Allow reliable planning to reduce the harbour turnaround time to improve the utilisation of both port infrastructure and vessels;
  • Support the implementation of measures to meet legislation regarding emission reduction;
  • Investigate ocean currents applying this to routing for the shipping community and using shipping data to improve knowledge of currents for the scientific community.

Current Status

The project kicked off April 3rd, 2012. At this moment a set of User Needs have been established and preparation for roll-out of the Monitoring Service is almost complete.  Based on previous feasibility work the system requirements have been defined. Preliminary talks have taken place with a restricted user and stakeholder group, and the User Focal Groups are being established to consolidate and confirm the user requirements and system capabilities. This will be followed by development of the services.

Operation and verification of SEMAFORS will be performed using sea trials. They are planned to take place for a period of 9-12 months with a selected group of users. Users participate in two phases:

  • Phase 1 where monitoring is performed to establish the actual ship performance and
  • Phase 2 to use SEMAFORS and monitor the results of using SEMAFORS.

The global distribution of the participating vessels and limited time slots for installation preferably requires a remote roll-out, which is an interesting challenge. The roll-out is part of the incremental deployment.

In parallel to the trials, the business plan will be further developed and additional user needs and requirements will be identified on the basis of feedback from trials.

Prime Contractor(s)

Status Date

Updated: 22 April 2013 - Created: 15 February 2014