Worldwide there are approximately 3,000 merchant ports and the work of the Harbour Master can vary widely from country to country and from port to port even within the same country.
Sierra Leone with one of Africa’s busiest territorial waters wants to improve its capabilities for digital implementation of key IMO instruments for navigation and safety at sea.
VHF Data Exchange System (VDES) is an extension of the mandatory AIS technology and has been developed as a means for maritime digitalisation as specified in the IMO e-Navigation Strategy Implementation Plan.
In mid-June an online signing ceremony was held where the Sierra Leone Maritime Administration signed a Letter of Intent with Sternula for the use of its VDES capacity.
According to Acting Executive Director of the Sierra Leone Maritime Administration, Sama Gamanga: ‘There is a great potential in implementing this satellite-based e-Navigation technology to boost the entire country’s maritime sector. The new relationship will help the country gain a better and more accurate picture of the traffic in our waters, which in these time of maritime insecurity is an urgent necessity.’
CEO at Sternula, Lars Moltsen commented: ‘We are very pleased to start this second collaboration in West Africa in just a few months. At Sternula, we are currently building a satellite network for VDES, which is going to be a shared infrastructure for all nations in the World who wants to be part of it. In parallel, we are working closely with the first-movers, like Sierra Leone, to implement our systems and capacity to best meet your needs, and I am looking much forward to meeting you soon in Sierra Leone to discuss these needs in more detail.’
Increased collaboration and harmonisation
A significant proportion of ships in Sierra Leone waters are sailing under Danish flag. Denmark has always been a strong maritime nation and is working for increased global collaboration on the maritime sector.
Tom Nørring, the Danish Ambassador to Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea-Conakry, and Togo, who took part in the signing ceremony reflected: ‘At the Danish Embassy in West Africa, we are very pleased with this new collaboration between a local maritime administration and a Danish tech company, and we congratulate both sides. We would like to invite the Sierra Leone government to collaborate with Denmark on a zero-emission strategy for the maritime sector, which is a top priority for the Danish government.’
Development of the VDES technology into an ITU and IMO standard has been ongoing in IALA for the past decade.
Omar Frits Eriksson, Deputy Secretary General at IALA added: ‘IALA is working with the goals of international harmonisation of marine aids to navigation and supporting systems and capacity building. We congratulate the Sierra Leone Maritime Administration and Sternula with this collaboration which is great step towards harmonization and capacity building on top of the new VDES standard.’
The Result of Years of Research and Development
The VDES technology is an extension to the popular AIS system which is today installed in more than 200,000 vessels worldwide. VDES adds more than thirty times extra data capacity than AIS, much better security, and two-way communication via satellite.
Jens Dalsgaard Nielsen, Associate Professor at Aalborg University added: ‘At Aalborg University, we have been working on space technology and AIS for the past 25 years. It is very exciting for me to be part of this development towards VDES, which is the future standard for maritime digital communication, in particular as a cost-effective tool for the maritime authorities globally.’
Lars Moltsen concluded with: ‘In Sternula, we know that we stand on the shoulders of those who have built the existing standards and communication systems. We are proud to take a leading role in working towards new and better standards that enables maritime administration to implement effective systems for a higher level of safety at sea. Sternula will be offering its VDE-SAT infrastructure enabling VDES on a global scale from 2023.
Sternula is Denmark’s first commercial satellite operator. The company offers global VDE-SAT connectivity for maritime authorities and industries using its own fleet of advanced micro-satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) which will be operational from 2022.
At Sternula an active role is taken with global maritime stakeholders to standardize VDES under IALA, IMO, and ITU.
As we know passage through the Suez Canal is by no means plain sailing. It requires a multitude of complex bureaucratic approvals, timely logistics, tight scheduling and close monitoring to ensure the smooth transit of between 50 and 70 ships daily along the narrow Egyptian waterway that is a vital artery for the flow of world trade.
Aziz Nabil, operations manager for Inchcape Shipping Services Egypt commented on 22 November: ‘Nothing can be left to chance and there is no room for delay as this can prove costly for the ship owner.’
About 12% of international trade passes through the 193-kilometre canal that connects the Mediterranean Sea and Red Sea, making it the shortest shipping route between Asia and Europe.
The risks of negotiating the man-made route were highlighted with the dramatic grounding of the giant containership Ever Given in March this year that blocked the Suez Canal for a week – delaying some 369 ships carrying an estimated $9.6 billion of trade – before the ship was finally refloated.
The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) subsequently filed a $916 million claim for compensation for lost revenue and salvage costs due to the incident, attributed to a navigational failure caused by reduced visibility in high winds and a sandstorm, and the ship was detained for three months until the financial dispute with the ship owner was resolved.
We learn that the General Lighthouse Authorities of the United Kingdom and Ireland (GLA)1 have named Dr Alan Grant as the Head of its Research and Development team. He assumed his new role on 1 November.
As part of his duties Dr Grant heads the GLA’s research and development programme, considering existing and future maritime requirements and operational strategy.
GLA Research and Development (known as GRAD) is tasked with improving maritime safety by developing innovative and cost effective maritime aids to navigation.
At GRAD projects have included all aspects of AtoN including human and machine interaction, operational life and environment. The team has especially deep technical expertise and experience with AIS, VDES, eLoran, e‑Navigation, GNSS, SBAS and visual signaling.
Dr Grant joined the GLAs in 2003 and has worked on a variety of systems during his time with GRAD. He led a series of successful GPS jamming trials and the development of the multi-system radionavigation receiver performance standards, from initial concept through to international recognition at the IMO. He continues to support resilient positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) in maritime navigation at both technical and strategic levels.
Dr Grant is as a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Navigation RIN, where he is a member of Council and served as a Vice President from 2019-2021. He is also a member of the US Institute of Navigation and served on the ION Council from 2013-2017.