Are we there yet? An update on LRIT in Australia



J. Carson-Jackson, Manager, Vessel Tracking, Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), Australia



At the 81st session of the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), the International Mar itime Organization (IMO) adopted an amendment to SOLAS Chapter V that introduces new obligations for ships regarding Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) in resolution MSC.202(81). This was not an easy decision, and the developments in LRIT are a result of many discussions dating from February 2002, as part of the ‘Security Package developed in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of ‘9/11’’, including extensive deliberations at IMO supported by two workshops on ‘Global Tracking of Vessels’ held by IALA.

The amendments require vessels to automatically, and without human intervention on board the ship, transmit vessel identity, position and date/time at six hour intervals. The system was agreed in such a way as to ensure no direct cost to shipping or search and rescue, with Contracting Governments bearing all costs of the system.

The SOLAS amendment came into force on 1 January 2008, with compliance by 31 December 2008. Recognising the complicated distribution structure, testing on the system will begin in July 2008. But what is LRIT, how does it work, what are the ongoing issues in LRIT and how is Australia responding to the SOLAS amendments and developments in LRIT?

What is LRIT?

LRIT is a maritime domain awareness (MDA) initiative which allows member States to receive position reports from vessels operating under their flag, vessels seeking entry to a port within their territory, or vessels operating in proximity to the State’s coastline. LRIT can offer a range of benefits, including aiding in search and rescue, protection of the environment, safety of shipping, port efficiency and maritime security.

There are really two aspects to LRIT:

i) The ‘reporting’ aspect where vessels of 300 gross tonnage and above report their identity and position, with a date/time stamp, every six hrs (four times per day)

ii) The ‘receiving’ aspect where coastal states can purchase reports when vessels are within 1,000 nautical miles, or port states can purchase reports when vessels seeking entry to a port at a pre-determined distance or time from that port (up to 96 hrs pre-entry) Put in very simplistic terms, LRIT is a collection and distribution system for basic information on vessels, and applies to the following ships engaged on international voyages:

All passenger ships including high speed craft
• Cargo ships, including high speed craft of 300 gross tonnage and above
• Mobile offshore drilling units

Ships operating exclusively in Sea Area A1 and fitted with an Automatic Identification System (AIS) will be exempt, while ships operating in Sea Area A2 which are not fitted with Inmarsat C GMDSS will be required to fit a dedicated LRIT terminal.

Ships operating into Sea Area A4 will require a dedicated LRIT terminal that operates in conjunction with an approved lowearth orbit communication service provider. For ships operating in Sea Area A3, the existing Inmarsat C terminal will be used for automatic position reporting or APR, although there have been  indications of technical problems for some terminals.

How does LRIT work?

LRIT works on a request and response process, with various components linked together. Ship LRIT equipment must be capable of being configured to transmit the following minimum information set in an automatically generated position report (APR):

• The identity of the ship
• The position of the ship
• The date and time of the position

In addition, ship LRIT equipment must be able to respond to poll requests for an on-demand position report and be able to immediately respond to instructions to modify the APR interval to a frequency of a maximum of one every 15 minutes.

The system architecture as presented in IMO Resolution MSC.210(81) shows the process for linking the collection centres (Data Centres or DC) to an exchange system (International Data Exchange, or IDE) (Figure 1). At MSC83 the original concept of an International Data Centre (IDC) was put on hold for the timebeing, as there are many issues surrounding setting up such a centre. What this means now is that flag states that were thinking of using the IDC will have to set up some sort of Data Centre – either by establishing their own National Data Centre (NDC) or by joining an existing Regional Data Centre (RDC) or Co-operative Data Centre (CDC). The IMO has identified the International Mobile Satellite Organisation (IMSO) as LRIT Coordinator, and they will have some audit and oversight functions as identified in the LRIT Performance Standards, IMO resolution MSC.210(81).

If you think of the old telephone exchanges, LRIT is quite similar. Ships transmit information through APR, and that data is available to the vessel’s Flag State at all times. For another flag state to access the information, they will send a request to the IDE. Linked to IDE is the Data Distribution Plan (DDP) that will have the ‘routing rules’ and this will verify that the ‘requestor’ can access the information. Each contracting government will provide these routing rules to the IMO, who are developing the DDP. This DDP is the insurance that data flows according to the wishes of a contracting government – i.e. providing the information on vessels within 1,000 nautical miles, or 96 hrs out from port. If the DPP verifies that the information request is valid, the IDE will then act as a link to the requesting data centre and the providing data centre. A very simplified version of the data flow is shown in Figure 2. The link between the satellite and the data centre will require the use of a Commercial Service Provider (CSP) and Application Service Provider (ASP) (not shown in the diagram). The actual communications and other technical standards for how this will all fit together are still under development, but standard protocol and internet links will form the backbone of the system.

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