The Role of Satellite Technology in the Maritime Industry

Image is for representational purposes only. Courtesy: Link Communication Systems

Satellites have helped the maritime industry through various issues that include piracy, distress, navigation, oil spills, etc. They help track a ship’s position when in distress and also inform the ship of weather when needed.

Sigmund Dehli, the Director of Sales at Kongsberg Satellite Services said, “KSAT has delivered satellite-based oil spill detection services to the oil industry and governmental agencies for decades. The service is mainly based on oil spill detection using SAR- satellites. The data is downloaded through KSAT’s global ground station network and analysed by image analysts in our headquarters, who are available on a 24/7/365 basis. The results are delivered in near real-time to the end-user, which typically means 45-60 minutes from the time the satellite image is acquired. The end-user is then responsible for actions according to local regulations.”

Satellite-based technologies and Copernicus (the European Earth Observation program) contribute to maritime security, safety, marine environmental protection. The present sophisticated technology was created to establish and operate a satellite communications network for the maritime community. The foundation was established by the International Maritime Satellite Organisation (INMARSAT), a non-profit intergovernmental organisation established in 1979 at the behest of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)—the United Nations’ maritime body—and pursuant to the Convention on the International Maritime Satellite Organisation, signed by 28 countries in 1976.

The technology has provided global maritime distress and safety services (GMDSS) to ships and aircraft as a public service. Services include traditional voice calls, low-level data tracking systems, and high-speed Internet and other data services as well as distress and safety services. The most recent of these provides GPRS-type services at up to 492 kbit/s via the Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) IP satellite modem the size of a notebook computer. Other services provide mobile Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) services used by the media for live reporting on world events via videophone.

In a later improvement, Inmarsat has developed a series of networks providing certain sets of services (most networks support multiple services). They are grouped into two sets, existing and evolved services, and advanced services. Existing and evolved services are offered through land earth stations which are not owned nor operated by Inmarsat, but through companies which have a commercial agreement with Inmarsat. Advanced services are provided via distribution partners but the satellite gateways are owned and operated by Inmarsat directly.

The EU Scenario

Satellite technology offers many benefits to Europe’s maritime regions and its marine environment. They have enabled the EU and its agencies to monitor large numbers of ships sailing in its waters under the Long-Range Identification and Tracking System (LRIT), enhancing security by tracking ships and allowing member states to evaluate the security risks posed by a ship and take action to reduce that risk.

Satellites are used to track and monitor ships under SafeSeaNet (SSN), enhancing safety and efficiency of maritime traffic, reducing accidents or potentially dangerous incidents, and for search and rescue activities. SSN is also linked to a system, the Hybrid European Targeting and Inspection System (THETIS), which enables states to determine which ships entering ports need to be inspected against international standards and conventions (structural, safety equipment, crew training and safety for example). Finally, SSN can be used to track ships to ensure they do not intentionally pollute the marine environment, and to assist in a prompt response to maritime accidents which result in major pollution incidents. Satellites covering the North Sea region, for example, have proved particularly useful in extending coverage of surveillance to identify illegal pollution taking place under the cover of darkness.

Satellite technology has made the maritime industry and the world at large more tangible and interconnected. Their role in understanding issues such as climate change and the way the globe is changing is crucial. They are indispensable when it comes to managing maritime issues, safety and security.

References: Maritime Security Review, Link Communications Systems, UACES (Angela Carpenter) 

Sea News Feature, March 12