How to Use AIS Data to Your Advantage

Posted by Landers M. Weakley

As the world becomes more complex and interconnected, the speed and reliability of data is critical to make more concise and effective decisions. In the wake of the 2002 SOLAS agreement’s relative mandate, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) developed the Automatic Identification System (AIS) as a standard intended to monitor live marine traffic around the globe.
AIS was originally conceived for use on larger vessels for local ship-to-ship identification, but has since paved the way for a more avante garde approach for data capture, analyzation and utilization. The various levels of contextual information that AIS provides grants the user a situational awareness in the marketplace and the ability to make educated decisions based on aggregated data analytics. Staying informed is truly the ultimate defense in best-practice decision making for safe, effective, and financial viability.
Data Collection
AIS can be compared to an aircraft’s transponder technology in a sense that equipped vessels have the ability to see and be seen on a global scale. The use of satellite-based AIS systems is becoming more commonplace due to its consistent coverage and the high priority placed for safety and security at sea. The ability to integrate meteorological and hydrological monitoring with vessel position and course allows for more concise planning from ship to shore and essential savings in the long run. The information provided in AIS is broken down into three informative groups.
  • The first group is the dynamic information group that consists of the vessel’s current status, position, speed, course and rate of turn. This data is automatically transmitted every 2 to 10 seconds (depending on the vessel’s speed and course) and every 6 minutes while at anchor.
  • The second group showcases the static information of a vessel. This data consists of the vessel’s name, IMO number, MMSI number and vessel dimensions. This fixed information acts as a digital license plate, making it a valuable reference when identifying a vessel.
  • The third and final group consists of the voyage-specific information which exhibit the subject vessel’s destination, estimated time of arrival (ETA) and keel depth below the waterline when loaded and unloaded. Properly analyzing and understanding these factors can save the shipper lots of time and money. There is a quote from Benjamin Franklin that reads, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Sound advice from the well-deserved face of the hundred dollar bill.
Antenna Placement
All vessels equipped with an AIS transponder emit data that can be received by any AIS-receiving unit within range. Antenna placement plays a large role in optimizing the full potential of AIS. Normally, an AIS-receiving station antenna is placed no less than 15 meters above sea level, allowing it to receive (AIS-equipped) vessel information within a range of a 15-20 nautical miles. By raising the antenna to a higher elevation we can optimize the distance of its potential. Essentially, the higher the elevation the farther the antenna can transmit. Other factors include the type of antenna being used, weather conditions in the area and potential obstructions between the antenna and the target.
Characterization of ports, offshore platforms, and distribution of routes
Protection programs augmented with AIS provide a collaborative platform for assessing risk and making educated decisions. Fleet/cargo tracking is used to predict port arrival times. Having the ability to predict these factors also helps with demurrage validation and managing costs. AIS data can also help predict berth availability in next port of call, turnaround times and anchoring waiting times. The analytic forecasting provided by AIS tracking allows the user to predict vessel traffic by analyzing vessel pattern knowledge to create a situational awareness for ships and shippers. In the case of offshore platforms or subsea cables, AIS is combined with radar and other data sources to establish an alert zone and “watch team” around said assets.
Safety, security and accident investigation
Another useful benefit of AIS is infrastructure and asset monitoring. This includes securing and monitoring construction platforms, subsea pipelines and cables. The data obtained from AIS can also aid in incident response and post mortem analysis of an accident. AIS historical data can produce a detailed timeline of events leading up to the incident, the cause of the incident and ways to prevent future occurrences. In the case of a vessel damaging an underwater pipeline, the implementation of safety zones around the client’s fixed assets enables the user to be notified when the zone is breached. It is now the watch-stander’s responsibility to use his or her best judgment in relation to the risk placed on the pipeline. If deemed a threat, the watch-stander will alert the vessel and/or pipe-liner on duty to warn of potential threats or escalated encroachments.  With AIS shipping data we are able to identify, quantify and manage risks for all vessel stakeholders and their cargo.
Environmental Protection/Ship Vetting
AIS can also be used for environmental research and protection. Ports must conduct emissions inventory and with the proper algorithms from AIS data, it is possible to infer the amount of emissions inventory for port over any existing period of time. AIS ship traffic reports are used with air quality samples to analyze the impact of shipping operations on the local environment. One example is Oceaneering's partnership with RightShip and the Australian Marine Environment Protection Association (AUSMEPA) to develop a Maritime Emissions Portal (MEP) that provides ship emissions data to industry leaders. RightShip Capt. Anuj Chopra, Vice President of RightShip says, “It has been proven that vessels emitting fewer carbons are also more fuel efficient and tend to have fewer accidents.” For a company to adopt this service not only displays the utmost diligence, but it sets a standard for the ship owners to uphold their obligation to also be environmentally sound.
Collision Avoidance
An important concept of AIS is to see and be seen. As previously mentioned, the creation of AIS was to monitor marine traffic live to mitigate future accidents. With 24/7 encroachment damage monitoring, the global shipping data obtained from AIS data mining provides a real-time picture of vessel traffic for vessel operators, the United States Coast Guard and vessel stakeholders to analyze, integrate and collaborate accordingly. With historical AIS data, the end-user can compile positional and navigational information to avoid future risks and occurrences. 
Lower Demurrage Fees
Demurrage fees exist to incentivize shippers to stay on schedule. Demurrage fees are accumulated on vessels inside the port, while detention fees are assessed on vessels outside the port. Even if the shipper is not responsible for the delay, the shipper may in fact be responsible for paying the fees associated with the detainment of the vessel. Ports and facilities work diligently to alleviate storage space as quickly as possible in order to make room for new clients. When a shipper can monitor and predict the vessel’s movement it allows them a more disciplined schedule and budget, saving the client time and money. 
AIS plays a primary role in the overall international maritime information systems, as well as voyage planning and monitoring. In addition to the aforementioned advantages of AIS and useful asset scenarios, we can ascertain that the more data obtained from these vessels ultimately enhances the maximum availability of AIS technology. As AIS moves into other avenues of industry and technology, stakeholders will have a greater understanding of data mining and it’s most effective usage, which will allow them to improve current tools, processes, and promote a safer and more consistent operating platform for future development.
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Posted on Jul 24, 2018 6:07:00 AM

Topics: AIS, Terminals, Shipping, Vessel Tracking, Demurrage