Posts Tagged ‘IMO NAV57’

Want something done? Ask someone who’s already busy

June 20, 2011

John Erik Hagen is remarkably relaxed given the scale of the task appointed to him. The regional director of the Norwegian Coastal Administration is also chair of the IMO intercessional working group on e-Navigation and he chaired the working group held during the recent NAV 57 sub-committee meeting.

Efthimios E. Mitropoulos, Secretary-General of IMO. Courtesy of IMO

His task is a little akin to re-wiring the shipping industry, but involves writing the specification as it evolves, connecting some existing components with some yet to be invented ones while using a new language as the basis of communications.

Along the way he has to navigate political squalls and heavy weather from vested interests while continuing to make enough speed to keep the crew and passengers happy.

As a result, the report he submitted to NAV57 prepared by the intercessional group is a work in progress but it includes some of the main planks of the structure and strategy for e-Navigation. We caught up with him during a break in the working group proceedings to discuss the report and its implications.

“I think this report represents some milestones,” he says. “First of all we have agreed on an overarching architecture, which is the principal guideline for the information flow between ships and between ship and shore.”

For practical purposes that meant replacing one data flow diagram with a more detailed one, incorporating the Common Maritime Data Structure (CMDS) and the Worldwide Radio Navigation System.

Further issues discussed and agreed during the meeting were an agreement to use the IHO’s S-100 standard as the basis of the CMDS and the establishment of a Harmonisation Group on data modelling.

This progress he attributes to a willingness to compromise, not to mention the personal interest of the secretary-general.

“There were a lot of discussions, both on the architecture and the other issues as well but I think that we compromised and we agree on the important issues, so my feeling is that we are heading in the right direction,” he adds.

Work on the strategy implementation plan resulted in a co-ordinated approach to the implementation which covered not only the safety of navigation but also radio communications, search and rescue, the human element and training-related aspects.

With agreement on principles for further development, he says, progress can be made on completing the gap analysis on user needs and priorities. Many of these have already been identified across the operational, technical, legislative and training categories and he hopes to complete the process between now and next year, before proceeding onto the risk and cost benefit analyses.

Flags and Logo of the IMO. Courtesy of the IMO

It’s no quick fix but Mr Hagen is relaxed about the timetable, noting that the plan is currently to present the strategy implementation plan to the first meeting of the Maritime Safety Committee in 2014.

And what of the supposed controversy that attended e-Navigation at the start of this year? Is the industry in step or are there still dissenting voices on the direction and pace of proceedings?

“I have been chairing this programme now for a couple of years, and I think that when I started as chairman, I recognised that there were differences of opinion on what the concept should be,” he says carefully.

His response was to never travel without the strategy implementation plan close to hand but he says he noticed a different tone at the NAV meeting.

“I think that the different parties have now begun marching as a troop. I remember that there was a conference recently where it was expressed that for the first time the observer organisations of the IMO now had a very close co-operation in the development of e-Navigation, based on the strategy plan. So that was very good to hear.”

Neville Smith

The right data in the right boxes

April 27, 2011

July 1, 2012 marks the first milestone on the path to ECDIS implementation; the first of the IMO’s deadlines on the path to ‘full ECDIS’ by 2018. It also puts down something of a marker for the e-navigation concept, currently under development at IMO.

E-navigation might take another ten years to come to fruition – and it might not end up as part of the SOLAS Convention in the way that ECDIS has – but it is clear that ECDIS will play a central role in e-navigation.

ECDIS is currently the only Geographical Information System (GIS) on the bridge – the key building block which integrates digital data in any meaningful fashion. Properly configured and properly used, ECDIS is a very powerful decision-making tool.

And there is a need for other systems with similar capabilities to sit alongside it, which are integrated, eventually giving the mariner at sea an e-navigation environment.

It would be a mistake however, to imagine that the right way to proceed is to keep adding more functionality into the ECDIS box. Indeed, no recent conference attendee can have escaped one speaker or another warning against just this. Over-cluttering the ECDIS display can cause confusion and mistakes on the bridge, they say.

This suggests that despite its potential, the roles of navigation and information should be clearly split between front and back of bridge, between ECDIS and other dedicated e-navigation tools.

The result can still be an integrated navigation system, of which one component is ECDIS navigation functionality, rather than taking the ECDIS machine and turning it into an information management system.

There could be different but similar arrangements on shore but here again the thinking needs a shift. E-navigation is less about the boxes themselves and more about the connectivity and standards for inter-operability of the data that’s running around the system.

This will mean users getting the data they want, when they need it, presented in a useful way – different of course if the ship is in a controlled navigation area or out in mid-ocean.

The journey towards e-navigation involves identifying what data the user needs, which tools can be used to display it, then completing a gap analysis on what data is still needed: work which the IMO Sub-Committee on Safety of Navigation will present at NAV 57 in June.

There will then be just under a year until the first ECDIS deadline, after which it will be possible to judge if the data is flowing fast enough and in the right direction. And a year is a very short time at the IMO.

Neville Smith

E-navigation needs a back-up position

April 21, 2011

The IMO correspondence group which leads work on e-navigation is finalising its report for submission to the IMO NAV57 sub-committee meeting in June. The report will summarise the work done to date and include a gap analysis which sets out requirements for systems, the options available, how these fall short or differ from requirements and what needs to be done to fill the gap.

Dr Nick Ward, of the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities (IALA), fresh from an IALA meeting on e-navigation, gave us an update on the key issues from his organisation’s perspective.

IALA has made contributions to the correspondence group on communications and navigation systems and also considered the need for a way forward for the technical architecture.

Critical areas to be addressed in the report will be data structures and the need for a common data model. IALA is also working on the issue of the man-machine interface. There are, he says “a lot of human element aspects to be resolved to avoid overloading and confusing, rather than helping the mariner”.

IALA has also provided input on the issue of position fixing and will make its own submission to NAV57 on the same subject.

“The critical area for us is resilience of position fixing. Clearly there are other issues, for example with communications, congestion of VHF and high capacity data exchange, but that is the big one for us” he says.

Position fixing remains a hot item for marine navigation because its primary input, GPS is increasingly seen as vulnerable to jamming and disruption from solar flares. With GPS offline, ECDIS would lose its automatic position input and complex concepts like e-navigation, much of their functionality.

Solar Flare (SDO AIA 304) 3-7-11

In the UK, the opinion expressed by IALA and at government level is that the only credible option for a back-up to GPS for position input is the land-based radio system eLoran. Not every country shares this view but Dr Ward suggests this might not be the obstacle it first appears.

The US, having decided to turn off its Loran-C system last February must decide this month on whether it agrees there is a need for a back-up and whether this means reinstating Loran-C or exploring an alternative low frequency back-up.

“It might be that we don’t need a global back-up or for the back-up to be the same everywhere,” says Dr Ward. “One way to look at this might be to provide back-up depending on level of traffic and degree of risk, a concept which is aligned to the SOLAS Convention.”

That might mean a full back-up operates in the busiest shipping lanes and chokepoints but not across the open ocean. Such a solution makes a great deal of sense and if implemented might also satisfy those officers who want to keep their navigators’ manual position fixing skills up to scratch.

Neville Smith


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