Maritime capabilities aplenty at the CSIR


The expertise residing in the country’s premier research and development organisation – the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) – is a valued contributor to South Africa’s maritime sector, with the Navy one beneficiary.

Among the innovations that have come out of the CSIR campus in Pretoria are acoustic cameras to detect underwater threats, the use of unmanned aircraft in the maritime environment, a davit system to launch reaction vessels from large moving ships and technology to monitor maritime operations.

Piracy coming closer to South African coastal waters as well as that of its Southern African Development Community (SADC) neighbours, a massive increase in maritime poaching and natural disasters are among factors that prompted the country and the CSIR to broaden its scope when it comes to monitoring the seas over the last few years.

The threat, according to CSIR researchers, is not a warship armed with state-of-the-art technology. It ranges from small vessels manned by armed criminals out to poach Africa’s natural resources and pirates attacking civilian yachts on the east African coastline. Other threats include unseaworthy ships transporting hazardous cargoes caught in natural disasters and the effect of such disasters both on the coastline and people living in these areas.

Neall Moore, a CSIR mechanical and aeronautical engineer, spoke of the potential of unmanned aircraft systems in a maritime environment during an integrated marine and maritime technologies workshop in Pretoria.

He referred to operations in inhospitable environments or when boredom and fatigue could be taxing on a pilot. Moore showcased such an aircraft system and explained that – when fitted with a powerful camera and image processing software – it can identify small items, even in sea clutter where conventional viewing technology fails.
“It can be deployed on long missions not possible in a manned aircraft. Potential uses include the surveillance of abalone poachers and 24-hour anti-piracy surveillance,” he said.

Kiri Nicolaides, who leads ultrasonic research at the CSIR, spoke about the uses of an acoustic camera with ultrafine resolution in harbour surveillance activity. The camera being developed and still being refined by CSIR researchers could be used for ship hull scanning, detection of divers and underwater vehicles, classification of bottom laying objects and surveillance of sea life such as schools of fish or squid.
“Conventional imaging technology would require more than 4 000 separate sets of sensors to produce an image of 64 pixels by 64 pixels. Our team developed a system which produces the same image using only 96 sensors, making it much cheaper than 3D underwater imaging systems currently available,” he told the workshop.

Niël Goslett, a mechanical engineer from the CSIR’s maritime security research group, gave a presentation on the palletised davit system, a custom-designed hosting platform that can load and house a variety of small, fast vessels onto large ships to be rapidly deployed from moving ships in reaction to maritime threats.
“Somali pirates have already operated as far south as the Mozambique Channel and east towards the Maldives. The increasing incidence of piracy has resulted in the Cape sea route becoming a preferred option for shipping companies and South Africa needs a fast and agile reaction to such incidents,” he said.

The davit system is removable and can be loaded onto any ship’s deck with a suitable container footprint. It has a wave compensating hydraulic davit system mounted on a load vector compensating base, which ensures forces are evenly distributed into the deck.

The system also carries stored energy which means reaction vessels can be deployed even if the ship cannot provide the required power.
“The system allows teams to be rapidly deployed and recovered while the ship is underway, enabling them to quickly react, for example during search and seizures or rescue operations.”

Herman le Roux, leader of the CSIR’s smart systems research group, emphasised the importance of real-time situational awareness when teams respond to maritime incidents.

His group developed the CMORE platform in partnership with Armscor. It is a situational awareness and decision-support technology platform, based on current web and mobile technology. It consists of a central server, a web-based desktop application, several mobile applications and a link to an external gateway which can send data to CMORE from multiple external systems. It can be used as a virtual control room for maritime operations whereby operator positions can be observed when they are deployed in the field. The site can receive photographic images, instant text messages and map positions.

Dr Waldo Kleynhans of the CSIR’s remote sensing research group spoke about the use of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data to monitor oil slicks as an example.
“SAR has the ability to penetrate clouds and to provide information on ground targets during day or night. Historically it has been successful in the detection of ships involved in malicious activity.” Kleynhans said, adding SAR has not been fully utilised in South Africa.
“These satellite-based sensors can cover thousands of square kilometres in a single pass which reduces the monitoring cost per square kilometre significantly when compared to manual monitoring systems. This form of radar is an effective tool for monitoring oil slicks and identifying vessels not carrying active transponders.”