The eighth in a series of papers providing an overview of topical shipping issues, this briefing reviews e-Navigation.
For some years the IMO has been developing a strategy and implementation plan for e-navigation, with work being undertaken in a number of the sub-committees. The concept is being developed to promote safety, security and efficiency in global shipping, as well as to protect the marine and coastal environments. This had been against a rising trend in terms of numbers and costs of collisions and groundings where human error has been primarily to blame; more reliance on electronic aids to navigational decision making are seen as a solution. The concept was launched in a paper submitted to the IMO’s Marine Safety Committee by the UK and others in 2005. The point made at the time was that accident investigators were recording that over half of all incidents at sea were due navigational errors and failures. Whilst statistics now indicate fewer marine casualties in recent years, shipping lanes are getting busier and, with much larger vessels being operated, the potential for major accidents remains.
It was suggested there was a compelling need to equip the master, and indeed shore authorities, with modern proven tools to make marine navigation more reliable and thereby reduce errors. With a variety of electronic systems already available, both on the bridge and ashore such as Automatic Identification System (AIS), Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS), Integrated Bridge Systems/Integrated Navigation Systems (IBS/INS), Automatic Radar Plotting Aids (ARPA), radio navigation, Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) and the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), there was recognition that technology must play a part. A growing problem with these electronic systems, however, was that they were developing in an uncoordinated manner, leading to lack of compatibility between equipment, difficulties with training and familiarisation. There was clearly a role for the IMO to play in the development of a strategic vision to ensure that technological advances were conducive to the enhancement of safety, security and the maritime environment, and that equipment was designed with the seafarer firmly in mind. This led to the start of an e-navigation strategy, with a target completion date of 2008, the work being assigned to the IMO’s navigation sub-committee as a priority item.
The intention was that e-navigation should meet present and future user needs through harmonization of marine navigation systems and supporting shore services. The IMO agreed that the initiative should be user driven and not forced by technology or the manufacturers. Based on a survey of user needs, the following elements were included: the human element, conventions and standards, position fixing, communication technology and information systems, electronic charts and equipment standardisation.
In terms of navigation, the benefits of e-navigation would be the improved decision support for the mariner and authorities ashore, coupled with better integration of ship and shore-based systems. Harmonised bridge design, greater resilience of navigation systems, improved reliability and the provision of automatic indicators and warnings would reduce human error. The integration of systems that are already in place would improve bridge efficiency and complement existing good practice, for example it would allow watchkeepers to spend more time keeping a proper lookout and use all available means to ascertain the ship’s position. Of course improving navigation safety and reducing the risk of collisions and groundings and the associated spillages is an obvious benefit to the environment; optimising routes and speeds would reduce emissions. Automated and standardised reporting procedures, would lead to a reduction in the administrative burden.
In 2008, the IMO’s Marine Safety Committee, subsequently agreed the following definition:
“e-navigation is the harmonized collection, integration, exchange, presentation and analysis of marine information on board and ashore by electronic means to enhance berth to berth navigation and related services for safety and security at sea and protection of the marine environment.”
with the core objectives of the e-navigation concept being to:
- facilitate safe and secure navigation of vessels having regard to hydrographic, meteorological and navigational information and risks
- facilitate vessel traffic observation and management from shore/coastal facilities, where appropriate
- facilitate communications, including data exchange
- provide opportunities for improving the efficiency of transport and logistics
- support the effective operation of contingency response, and search and rescue services
- demonstrate defined levels of accuracy, integrity and continuity appropriate to a safety-critical system
- integrate and present information on board and ashore through a human-machine interface which maximizes navigational safety benefits and minimises any risks of confusion or misinterpretation on the part of the user
- integrate and present information onboard and ashore to manage the workload of the users, while also motivating and engaging the user and supporting decision-making
- incorporate training and familiarisation requirements for the users throughout the development and implementation process
- facilitate global coverage, consistent standards and arrangements, and mutual compatibility and interoperability of equipment, systems, symbology and operational procedures, so as to avoid potential conflicts between users
- support scalability, to facilitate use by all potential maritime users
With these in mind, a gap analysis was undertaken in order to come up with so call e-navigation solutions. A Strategy Implementation Plan (SIP) was developed, and subsequently approved in 2014, to take forward the five top priority solutions. These were:
S1: improved, harmonised and user-friendly bridge design
S2: means for standardised and automated reporting
S3: improved reliability, resilience and integrity of bridge equipment and navigational information
S4: integration and presentation of available information in graphical displays
received via communication equipment
S9: improved Communication of VTS Service Portfolio (not limited to VTS stations)
A number of tasks have fallen out of each solution and the SIP has identified the required regulatory framework and technical requirements to implement them. The list of tasks has also provided industry with the information necessary to progress the design of appropriate products and services.
It is worth noting that e-navigation was to be based on existing equipment and was not a means of generating a range of new carriage requirements. Implementation should nevertheless see improved and more coherent performance standards. Incorporating the s-mode into ECDIS, which would allow the navigator to quickly reset ECDIS to a standard screen in case of difficulties would be one such idea supported by end users.
At MSC 95 in June 2015, guidelines related to Human-Centred Design (HCD) and Software Quality Assurance (SQA) were approved and have been the first tangible output of the project and will help to satisfy human element considerations as well as the reliability of navigational software. The latter of course caused much concern in the early days of ECDIS, which suffered a number of software anomalies.
As with building any international consensus, the work at the IMO has taken time. Whilst this has been ongoing, an industry on the subject has evolved and the term e-navigation has become a means of marketing conferences and many other ideas which have no direct relevance to the IMO project. Whilst they may not influence IMO at the higher level, they generate the voluminous material that contributes to the lower level activity and a heavy tail that tries to wag the dog. If the concept of e-navigation is to gain favour amongst traditional seafarers, then its original purpose, namely to enhance the safety of navigation, and the principal that it should be end user driven, needs to be firmly maintained.
Research and development in the shipping sector has in the past been fragmented and, although long in gestation, this project has the potential to move the integration of navigational systems forward in a coherent way. Ships of the same class, by the nature of the way they are built and operated, are unlikely to be the same in the way that aircraft types are the same, with all the inherent advantages and benefits the latter have in terms of safety. Properly embraced, however, e-navigation does allow the marine sector to aspire to similar standards of safety as are achieved in aviation.