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New safety technology for the entire Baltic Sea

Maritime safety should be viewed as an international whole

Risks related to maritime traffic in the Baltic Sea have been assessed only in areas where a concrete risk of accident has been detected. However, the risk analyses carried out by different countries in these areas vary greatly. According to VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, maritime safety would improve across the entire Baltic Sea if accident risks were analysed in all Baltic countries and across wider areas using a system for risk assessment that is jointly agreed on by all parties.

"The Automatic Identification System (AIS) for the identification and communication of ships also offers significant possibilities for improving traffic safety in the Baltic Sea. By investing in technologies which promote maritime safety, accidents could be prevented and irreparable personal and environmental damages could be avoided," President and CEO Erkki KM Leppävuori notes.

According to President and CEO Erkki KM Leppävuori, the Baltic Sea needs joint principles to apply the Formal Safety Assessment recommended by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

The technology already exists. The trouble is that currently, risk assessments carried out by different countries vary greatly, for example, in terms of how the costs of oil accidents are estimated. "A single method would enable the Baltic countries to identify real risk areas and assess the safety of their own sea territories," Leppävuori explains.

The Automatic Identification System (AIS) transmits geographical and identification data to and between ships, facilitating safe passage and readiness in changing sea conditions. The system provides a cohesive picture of sea traffic in the area. It helps ships anticipate the behaviour of surrounding traffic, and icebreakers can head to where help is needed. The system also facilitates more accurate risk analyses.

VTT has been involved in developing new message specifications for the AIS to increase the data content of messages. Using this new type of message (the AIS Application-Specific Message), ships can update weather information received from land stations on e.g. wind speeds, sea levels and atmospheric pressure in real time and thus predict changes in weather and sea conditions.

The new messages will reduce the workload of captains and navigators. In the future, they can concentrate on navigation instead of using the traditional VHF voice radio method to send information about the ship's cargo, passenger numbers and any detected hazards. In addition, the new messages provide an efficient means of communication to inform ships about caution areas, search and rescue operations and routes recommended by icebreakers.

The integration of the new message format to existing on-board systems is slow. It could be decades before it is in wide use. That is why VTT is in the process of developing an affordable and easy method for ships to adopt the new features provided by AIS. In order to utilise the new features, ships need software that runs on a regular computer, and a cable to link the computer to the ship's AIS transponder. The software interprets the messages transmitted by AIS and provides current weather observations and other data in an easy-to-view format. The first version of the software is already being tested aboard Viking Line's ships. The project is a joint venture of VTT, the Baltic Sea Action Group, IBM and the Finnish Transport Agency.

VTT has used AIS to collect data about hazardous near misses between ships, which happen at sea from time to time. More efficient monitoring of maritime traffic can help to reduce the number of near misses.

Maritime traffic control system can learn to predict hazards

Maritime safety in the Gulf of Finland is monitored at VTS (Vessel Traffic Service) centres. VTS is designed to improve maritime safety, promote the flow and efficiency of vessel traffic and to prevent accidents and related environmental damages.

The increased traffic in the Gulf of Finland – the ever-growing numbers of oil cargoes in particular – has meant that each VTS operator is responsible for monitoring more ships.

VTT develops tools to forecast hazards and to help busy traffic service personnel take these hazards into account in advance. The method currently being developed by VTT is based on "teaching" the control system by imitating normal sea traffic. This way, the system learns to predict abnormal ship movements. This, in turn, gives the control personnel and ship crew time to act in order to avoid accidents.

Traffic separation to improve safety in Sea of Åland

The IMO-approved traffic separation scheme, which was deployed in the Sea of Åland on 1 January 2010, separates north- and southbound traffic into different lanes. The deployment was based on the risk analysis carried out by VTT, which showed that traffic separation and its control is a very cost-efficient way to improve safety in the area and to protect the vulnerable archipelago.

For further information, please contact:

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland
Erkki KM Leppävuori, President and CEO
Tel. +358 20 722 4100
For further information about risk analyses, please contact:
Tapio Nyman, Senior Research Scientist
Tel. +358 20 722 4546
For further information about the AIS message system and maritime traffic control, please contact:
Robin Berglund, Senior Research Scientist
+358 (0)20 722 6018
Further information on VTT
Olli Ernvall, Senior Vice President, Communications
Tel. +358 20 722 6747

Olli Ernvall | VTT info
Further information:

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