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World Maritime Day: 6 ways ICTs can help to connect ships, ports and people

World Maritime Day 2017 is being celebrated on September 28th with the theme of “Connecting Ships, Ports and People.” ITU makes a tangible contribution to the development of maritime communication systems, which connect all players of the maritime ecosystem, by providing frequency spectrum for such systems, by developing standards for maritime communications and through a number of key publications and databases, such as the Maritime Mobile Access and Retrieval System (MARS) database.

This week, ITU News is running a series of articles looking at how ICTs connect the world’s ships, ports and people.

Nearly 90% of all goods that we buy have taken a journey by ship. To effectively and efficiently deliver goods around the globe, the modern maritime sector relies on information and communication technologies (ICTs) to facilitate the safe and reliable delivery of goods. In addition, many hundreds of thousands of vessels are involved in the exploitation of maritime resources such as the fishing and the oil industry, and many more are passenger and recreational vessels.

As the United Nations specialized agency for ICTs, ITU works to support and improve safety and security of the maritime sector, through existing and modern radiocommunication and radionavigation technologies.

As cloud technologies improve, it is predicted that the future of shipping will become more reliant on automation and ICTs.

Here are some of the ways that ICTs are helping to connect ships, ports and people:

1. Allocating frequency spectrum for maritime communications

Frequency spectrum is fuel for any radio system. Since 1906 ITU has been providing the necessary frequency resource for emerging maritime radio technologies at the quadrennial World Radiocommunication Conferences (WRCs). For instance, the WRC in 2012 (WRC-12) opened high frequency bands for digital data transmissions enabling transfer of computer files between ships and shore, which may facilitate sending reports and other data from fishing vessels to their parent companies at ports.

The last WRC in 2015 (WRC-15) allocated spectrum around 161 MHz for new Automatic Identification System (AIS) to improve the safety of navigation, and also provided additional frequencies around 7 GHz for the next-generation satellites used for maritime communications. In addition, this conference removed congestion in on-board communications in the UHF (ultra high frequency) band.

2. Radio navigation services for greener and smarter shipping

Ships have long been using radios to communicate with shore and other vessels, which can assist in determining the optimal and most economical routes.

By planning and controlling the proposed routing, the shipping industry can and will have an effect on emissions that may result in efficiencies of fuel consumption and costs. Radio communications can assist in this area of “sailing towards greener and smarter shipping.”

Now, a ship’s position can be tracked in real-time via Automatic Identification System (AIS) or satellite tracking.

Radionavigation-satellite service (RNSS) is an essential part of navigation at sea. This radio communication service operates in accordance with the rules established in ITU’s Radio Regulations (RR), which govern the use of radio frequency spectrum and harmonize the usage of frequency bands. A prominent example of an RNSS application is the global navigation satellite system (GNSS) such as Galileo, GLONASS, Beidou, GPS and some others.

GNSS systems have revolutionized navigation and the determination of exact positional information worldwide. They can provide the crew with real-time position information on board ships and aircraft down to a few meters accuracy.

3. Online maritime database

ITU’s Maritime mobile Access and Retrieval System (MARS) is an online maritime database system that allows users to access detailed information on onboard radio communication systems, including emergency contacts ashore, 24-hour emergency phone numbers and onboard satellite terminal numbers, radio call signs and access codes such as the MMSI and telex identities. The information is updated on a daily basis.

The website also provides key operational information i.e. particulars of coast stations, search and rescue aircraft and radio aids to navigation. Searching engines fields selected according to preferences of the users provides easy access to the information, such as MMSIs, Call Signs, and information regarding different ways to reach a ship at sea. Concerning coast stations and Rescue Coordination Centres (RCC), it is easy to find their characteristics such as watch frequencies, services covered such as medical advice and hours of watch.

4. Radio communications are fundamental to safety at sea

Having a reliable means of communications plays a key role in the safety of maritime traffic. For decades, ship captains depended on radios as means for necessary communication and coordination – declaring travel intentions and avoiding collisions. Radios must work seamlessly to ensure safety on land and at sea.

The ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) works to ensure safety for seafarers by playing a crucial role to determine the technical and operational procedures for radio services.

The (GMDSS) is an international system developed through the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and ITU that operates using terrestrial and satellite radio technologies on board ships and on shore. The system alerts shore-based rescue and communication personnel via the coast radio station or RCC in cases of distress and emergency, and notifies vessels in the vicinity of survivors to provide the necessary assistance.

5. Internet of Things (IoT) provides real-time metrics

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been a key area of growth in business and industry. It is now impacting the maritime sector to make shipping more efficient with the help of connected sensors and unified platforms allowing the real-time monitoring of systems on board the ship.

IoT-based solutions can monitor variables including location, temperature, shock, tilt, humidity, and pressure in seafaring vessels and send this information to control centers or shipping company offices. They may also be integrated into cargo systems such as refrigerated containers to allow the real-time monitoring of the product by the shipper. Data and information can be optimized and sent in real time to captains, crew members, other vessels in the network and shipping companies on land.

On a macro-level, IoT sensors can help track the whereabouts of a ship; on a micro-level, they are able to provide the live status of cargo containers, and monitor and analyze data from production to delivery.

6. Cloud, the next wave of innovation

Emerging technologies such as cloud computing are playing an increasingly important role in maritime logistics and transport.

Applying cloud-based solutions in conjunction with high-speed data links via satellite helps to connect vessels at sea with port operations ashore, maintenance service providers, as well as transportation partners. It will allow stakeholders to access and share data stored in the cloud and provides insights based on comprehensive information

For example, by connecting data to the cloud, the United Arab Shipping Co estimates that they saved on bunker fuel costs by 3 to 5% by adding real-time access to fuel pricing data, ship location and route information.

As cloud technologies improve, it is predicted that the future of shipping will become more reliant on automation and ICTs.

Taken together, ICTs play an invaluable role in the modern maritime industry.

Learn more about ITU’s role here.

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