Human error is held responsible for more than 80% of all accidents at sea. Despite the increase in availability of more reliable data for decision-making onboard ships, accidents related to human error still occur.
E-Navigation is a concept being developed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in cooperation with industry organizations and NGOs with the aim of addressing this issue. In brief, the aim is to further reduce the risks by more harmonized and efficient use of all available data in order to minimize the human error factor in accidents.
E-Navigation is a broad concept. It is defined by IMO as follows: “E-navigation is the harmonized collection, integration, exchange, presentation and analysis of marine information on board and ashore by electronic means to enhance berth to berth navigation and related services for safety and security at sea and protection of the marine environment.”
E-Navigation is a comparably new concept and is still under development.
Most people think that the letter “E” in the E-Navigation stands for “Electronic” while some others think it stands for the word “Enhanced”. However, actually it stands for none of them as well as for each one of them. In fact, E-Navigation is the brand name of the concept that has been described by the IMO above.
This new concept has almost a decade of history behind it. In 2006, during the 81st Session of the Maritime Safety Committee of IMO, a paper submitted by Japan, Marshall Islands, the Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, United Kingdom and the United States identified that there was a clear need to equip the master of a vessel, and those responsible for the safety of shipping ashore, with modern proven tools to make marine navigation and communication more reliable and thereby reduce errors particularly those with a potential for loss of life, injury, environmental damage and undue commercial costs. It also identified that more substantial and widespread benefits could be expected to arise for States, ship-owners and seafarers from the increased safety at sea, which was identified as the core objective of e-navigation.
At MSC 85, two years later; taking into account inputs from the industry and other relevant organizations such as IALA and IHO, the Committee approved the strategy for the development and implementation of e-navigation and developed the definition mentioned above.
This strategy calls for a ‘Strategy Implementation Plan’ comprising user needs; architecture; and making use of Gap, Cost Benefit and Risk Analysis, to be developed, with a deadline set for 2014. This implementation plan may set timetables for the initial phases of e-Navigation implementation.
E-Navigation has a potential to impact the entire maritime community. Amongst those likely to be affected are mariners, pilots, equipment manufacturers, Vessel Traffic Services (VTS), Rescue Coordination Centers (RCCs), Coastal States, Port States, Flag States, Hydrographic Offices, ship owners, ship operators and ship charterers. Also, according to IALA, the development of e-Navigation will have a significant impact on all facets of training and the modification of operating procedures. E-Navigation will standardize the bridge design. As a result, equipment costs will decrease and same will be valid for training. As the differentiation between ships’ bridge and equipment will minimize, effect on the human element will leave less room for error and therefore safety is expected to be enhanced.
But however, the human element is still the Achilles’ heel of the E-Navigation concept. This is because even though a more standardized design is provided, this might not address all the issues related with the human factor in accidents.
On a paper submitted by the International Maritime Pilots’ Association (IMPA) to IMO in 2012 (NAV 58/INF.3) these concerns were reflected. According to this paper, e-navigation has the potential to enhance navigation safety, but this will not occur if there is the misperception that mariners are no longer the most critical factor in safe navigation. According to IMPA, the expert human element on the bridge of a ship must continue to be at the center of the decision-making process. IMPA thinks that looking out of the window should remain essential. The integration of information obtained electronically does not preclude the need for information obtained through other means. To ensure safe navigation, it is essential that e-navigation data be complemented by, and validated through traditional methods. This includes voice communications and visual inspection of fixed/floating aids-to-navigation. The main concern for IMPA to make these remarks is the “berth-to-berth” navigation mentioned in the definition. At the end of the day, this will also cover the pilotage waters and the concern is that e-navigation may adversely affect the professional judgment of maritime pilots.
These concerns aside, e-navigation will create a less complicated working environment for maritime pilots as less room will be left for possible confusion. The PPU’s are supposed to be better integrated with E-Navigation system but it is yet unclear to what extent this standardization will take place. For the time being, there are different PPU producers with different models although basic information is similar and they all receive data from the ship’s systems through the pilot plug. However, there are some exceptions in which pilots carry onboard their own GPS receivers and dual-antenna DGPS for use with their PPUs.
E-navigation will also impact Coastal States. First of all, it will provide improved efficiency in training, certification and supervision. The other benefits are improved situational awareness by providing easy access to standardized and more reliable information; improved efficiency in supervision, coordination, control, as well as information. E-Navigation is expected to reduce the risk of accidents and incidents through efficient use of VTS, a service which is under the authority or supervision of Coastal States around the world. VTS is another important component of the e-navigation concept.
According to IALA; by enabling silent operation mode for VTS, augmented security will be provided for domain surveillance and monitoring. Thus, VTS and other users/integrated elements of the system will interact and share information in a silent way. This will be a radical change in the manner with which mariners have traditionally interacted with VTSs and in time we will know about the efficiency of a silent VTS compared to a traditional VTS.
All users will get oriented with the new system in the transition period. IALA has been committed to advancing e-navigation standards, development and guidance and is accepted as the most committed organization on the scene. The IALA e-Navigation Committee, formed from its Radio navigation and AIS Committees, is structured specifically to support the IMO in developing E-Navigation.
And, finally, what will e-navigation bring for onboard users? It will simplify daily work and training. Human-machine interface will be enhanced as well which will bring more usability, familiarity and navigational safety. Access to information will be easier and simpler which will further save time and prevent complexity. Eventually the bridge team will allocate more time and attention to other safety items which will lead to more enhanced navigational safety. With the simplicity of system, confidence in the use of navigational equipment will improve and help improve the situational awareness of navigators. Standardization will reduce the time for familiarization to equipment when seafarers work on different types of vessels. In VTS-regulated areas access to available services will be easier and this will reduce bureaucracy and thereby support more efficient use of bridge resources.
All these measures will serve the “zero accident” target of the International Maritime Organization, which is something everyone looks forward to.
In conclusion, the maritime community will welcome e-navigation but it is a concept which still has issues which need to be sorted. Human element is still at the heart of navigation and for the time being, mankind has not produced a reliable alternative to human eyes and the human brain. As long as the restrictions of the concept is not forgotten and looking out of the window remains essential as warned by IMPA, e-navigation is a tool worth investing in. Maybe another word?