AIS upgrade underway


Maritime technology provider, Marine Data Solutions of Cape Town, has begun implementing an automatic identification system (AIS) coastal network with Aids to Navigation (AtoN) capabilities along the South African coast, the Ports & Ships website reports.

The company, which specialises in vessel traffic management and information systems and other maritime domain awareness solutions, was awarded the turnkey contract by Lighthouse Services, which operates as a business unit of Transnet National Port Authority (TNPA). The scope of work includes installing new base stations and AtoN AIS at selected lighthouses along the South African coastline.

Steve Nell, Marine Data Solutions’ managing director says the AIS coastal network will bring South Africa in line with many other coastal countries worldwide and will greatly enhance South Africa’s current maritime domain awareness capabilities, the Ports & Ships website adds.

Marine Data Solutions previously played the crucial role of systems and display integrator for the South African Maritime Authority’s (SAMSA) Satellite AIS initiative, which is proving to be of great value. AIS was first introduced as a mandatory carriage requirement for ships in July 2002, and under the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) SOLAS Convention, all ships on international voyages were compelled to have been fitted with AIS by the end of 2004. AIS, utilising maritime VHF frequencies, provides real time automatic transmission and reception on suitably equipped ships with a range of information relating to course, speed, position and other important data.

AIS information can also be received ashore for the purpose of vessel tracking and management but availability of the information received remains dependent on ships keeping the system switched on. Although AIS started off as an anti-collision ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore system, it has now taken on many more applications in addition to supplementing existing marine Aids to Navigation (AtoN) systems. This technology is essentially a business intelligence tool, offering VTS management, vessel tracking, search and rescue and virtual AtoN.

Other AIS applications include complementing the existing AtoN service such as positively identifying a lighthouse in inclement weather; providing back up to an AtoN monitoring system to enable faster repairs; remote control manipulation; gathering real-time information such as traffic patterns for better future planning; monitoring and tracking the position of floating equipment such as buoys; and automatic alerts by being able to track and trace ships fitted with AIS and identifying cargoes, notifying port control of safety threats, and providing accurate estimated time of arrival information.

AIS can also be used to monitor particularly sensitive sea areas and messages can be generated to let ships know about these areas, and about traffic routing systems and areas to be avoided. AIS data can be made available to third parties, amongst them the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), the Department of Transport, the SA Navy’s Hydrographic Office and national intelligence.
“AIS will serve to increase South Africa’s Vessel Traffic System (VTS) footprints which means that a VTS operator will be able to ‘see’ vessels anywhere along the coast of South Africa should it be within the VHF range of an AIS base station,” says Nell. “It will also help with search and rescue operations and identification and tracking, as well as future planning.”

Some of the projects Marine Data Solutions has completed include the supply and commissioning of a VTS, AIS, and a Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GDMSS) for the port of Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, and more recently two VTS systems, including thermal cameras, at Lüderitz and Walvis Bay, Namibia.

A different project was the installation and commissioning of a laser docking aid system at the oil terminal in Saldanha Bay earlier this year, which was done in partnership with Australian company, Trelliborg Marine.