Automatic Identification System
The constantly growing ship traffic, the risks of environmental pollution and the need for increased maritime navigation safety inevitably call for the use of new means of marine vessel monitoring. Radiolocation, which has been in use for almost a century now, is no longer sufficient to provide the necessary real time information and desired coverage. The AIS (Automated Identification System) technology was developed at the end of the 20th century at the request of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The system enables all ships, supplied with AIS equipment on board, to transmit data about their current location, motion parameters, and identification specification (ship’s name, IMO and MMSI number, size, draught, etc.). Data is being transmitted at certain time intervals (varying from 2 to 30 seconds) via an ultra short wave radio on either of the following frequencies – 161.975 MHz or 162.025 MHz. During the 2002-2007 period, this system became compulsory and was gradually introduced to all vessels over 300 gross tons.
The principle of operation of the AIS system enables its use in both the open sea (by means of data exchange between the particular vessels) and the automated systems for traffic control that are already introduced into almost all major ports worldwide. The coastal systems receive data via the so called base stations or through special AIS receivers. By connecting more base stations (receivers) in the network, the system secures full coverage over a very large area. Undoubtedly, this information is extremely valuable for all government agencies, responsible for the safety of navigation, as well as for all companies, specialized in the maritime business. The real time ship traffic monitoring advantages the establishment of an effective organization that helps save time and money and in many cases prevents emergency situations in the structure of maritime transport.
Since 2002 a number of companies have started setting up large AIS networks and developing products for ship traffic representation. Among the most popular ones on a world scale are the AISLive and LMIU networks. Unfortunately the Black and Mediterranean Sea regions are somewhat left in the periphery of these projects. For the time being, good coverage is only provided for the countries in Western Europe and those in the Scandinavian region.
The AIS technology in Bulgaria
For the first time the AIS technology was applied in Bulgaria at the end of 2004 when the VTMIS system (Vessel Traffic Management and Information System) of the Maritime Administration Executive Agency was launched. The VTMIS system provides full coverage of the entire Bulgarian coastline and is being used round the clock by the Maritime Administration on-duty operators, who ensure the safety of navigation. The closed structure of the system and the need for monitoring of the information on the part of the outside users called for an Internet based software designed to display the ship traffic.
The VT Explorer program product was developed by Astra Paging Ltd. in the first half of 2005. With the help of this product the users in the Maritime Administration can remotely, via the Internet, monitor the actual ship traffic. The VT Explorer product is also applied in other state organizations such as Navy and Coast Guard. During the International Naval Exercises Breeze-2005 and Breeze-2006 the data gathered through the VTMIS and VT Explorer software helped coordinate all search and rescue interactions between the Maritime Administration and Navy. The system was also tested via mobile Internet (GPRS), installed aboard a warship.
Due to the great interest of the «maritime» companies, in mid 2006 Astra Paging Ltd. set up its own network of AIS receivers and started providing information services to all interested companies in the Bulgarian maritime business. All clients using the VT Explorer software product are required to pay a monthly subscription fee for the service. The very product can also be downloaded for free from the www.vtexplorer.com website. The network is quickly expanding thanks to the partnering companies from the other Black Sea countries. Currently it provides coverage of most of the ports in the Black Sea region.
The possibilities for mobile usage of the system via GPRS bring forth one other program product – the so called Pilot Navigator, which was suggested and requested by the Varna Pilot Station. By means of a notebook with Pilot Navigator, mobile GPS receiver and mobile Internet card installed on it, pilots can monitor in real time their own location, course and speed, as well as those of all other ships in the same area. Since the system is not dependent upon the meteorological conditions, it considerably decreases the risks related to navigation within the Varna Lake area.
The VTOPIS (Vessel Traffic Oil Pollution and Information System) pilot project, financed by the UN, was launched at the end of 2006. Bulgaria is the first Black Sea country to develop and test such a system. The project was completed and introduced into the everyday activities of the Maritime Administration CCME (Control and Conservation of The Marine Environment) department at the end of 2007. The VTOPIS system and the data gathered by the VTMIS software product provide constant monitoring of both the ships carrying hazardous cargo and the vessels engaged with activities that increase the risk of potential environmental pollution. In case any pollution is detected, the violator is tracked down in the archive database of VTOPIS and imposed sanctions accordingly.
The AIS technology within the European Union
Directive 2002/ 59 of the European Union obliges all member-countries to gradually introduce systems for control of the ship traffic (VTMIS). The year 2007 was set as deadline for implementation of that directive. In Bulgaria this introduction was done back in 2004. The project was financed by the PHARE program and the comparative analysis now shows that our system is among the most modern in Europe.
Parallel with the setup of the state VTMIS systems, the European Maritime Safety Agency started work on the SafeSeaNet project, which is a unified system for ship traffic data exchange between the countries members of the EU. This system gradually becomes an “European” VTMIS and grants each country the opportunity to not only monitor the ships that have already entered into the range of its system, but also those that have left a foreign port and are en route to its own ports or territorial waters. Today, as member of the EU Bulgaria faces the prospect of connecting the Bulgarian VTMIS with SafeSeaNet.
The EU has set forth some serious requirements in terms of the control over the fishermen. In addition to AIS, the traffic of fishermen in remote areas is being monitored via INMARSAT satellite communication center. This technology was introduced in Bulgaria in 2006.
In recent years the increased interest and use of new technologies for monitoring of the ship traffic have provided opportunities for fundamental changes within the organization of maritime transport. The rapid introduction of these technologies in Bulgaria gives hope for safer navigation in our territorial waters, as well as for a more efficient maritime business environment.