Innovatory European Maritime Navigation Services (MarNIS) concept unveiled



Peter Coles, Science and Technology Journalist, UK


Now almost completed, the European Commission’s MarNIS project has recently provided realistic demonstrations of its innovatory concept for the next generation of integrated Maritime Information Services in Genoa and Lisbon. Aimed at implementation between 2012 and 2020, MarNIS integrates vessel traffic monitoring, search and rescue and pollution combating under one (physical or virtual) roof.

Designed around a functional architecture that is independent of technology, the MarNIS concept centralises the flow of information on transiting ships for use by all maritime stakeholders. Early ‘once-only’ reporting and long range monitoring of shipping, especially vessels that pose a potential risk, enable a more proactive approach to environmental protection of Europe’s coasts, while increasing the speed of turnaround in ports.

Then and now

Picture this scenario: It is November 13, 2002. A Greek-operated, single-hulled tanker, flying a Bahamas flag, with a Liberian owner and chartered by a Swiss-based Russian oil company, is sailing off the coast of Spain with a cargo of 77,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil, when it hits a storm. One of its tanks bursts and begins to leak. Six days later, the ship splits into two and sinks. In all, about 63,000 tonnes of oil are released, polluting over 1,000 beaches across Spain and France and destroying the local fishing industry. It costs about US$2.8 billion to clean up the mess. The ship is, of course, the now infamous Prestige.

Now fast-forward to 2012 and replay the same scenario. An innovatory EC-funded Maritime Navigation Services concept, called MarNIS, is now in place. Within MarNIS, the Prestige will already have been designated a ‘High Alert Ship’, even before it sets sail, not least because of its inherently vulnerable construction
(a single-hulled tanker), its cargo, flag, age and complex ownership profile. Mandatory early reporting requirements mean that the ship’s static details, cargo, voyage plan and Estimated Time of Arrival at its destination have been entered into an upgraded Europe-wide SafeSeaNet (SSN++) database. Relevant parts of this information are instantly available on demand to all the authorised stakeholders along its route, through centralised National Single Window data hubs.

Under the MarNIS concept, as in all other European Member States, Spanish search and rescue operations, oil and pollution combating and vessel traffic  management, rather than being separate services, with their own administration, surveillance equipment, resources and information sources, are integrated under one roof, as Maritime Operational Services (MOS). Thanks to mandatory Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) and Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponder data, coastguards with training in vessel traffic management have been tracking the Prestige on the MOS centre display for hours, with its high alert tag clearly visible.

Because of the combination of the ship’s high alert status, the worsening weather and its proximity to the coast, the Spanish MOS centre has been in communication with the Prestige long before it gets into trouble, as part of its proactive safety strategy.  The vessel has been upgraded to a High Risk Ship. Emergency Towing Vessels and oil-combating resources have been put on standby, and, under existing international law, the Prestige is instructed to seek refuge. If, as in the real 2002 scenario, the Prestige were to start to break up before it reached shelter, the MOS centre would call up oil slick drift models and overlay ‘web-maps’ on its screens via an Internet feed, to visualise realtime weather and hydrological data and so maximise pollution combating efforts.

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