The North Sea is a hive of activity across multiple industries, with substantial volumes of vessel traffic in the area, and the offshore oil, gas and renewables industries being major contributors to this statistic.
The fact that some of the key ports in Europe surround the area, as well as it being a key link through to the Baltic States, make it no surprise that the key choke points around the North Sea are widely recognised. Points such as the Dover Strait and Skagerrak are some of the most notable. In the case of Dover, it is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. With statistical data from the UK Marine Management Organisation demonstrating just how busy these waters are around the UK Sector of North Sea waters alone, ensuring the safety of traffic in such a compressed environment is acknowledged as challenging. It is made, even more so, when the numerous navigational hazards, both natural and industrial, which vie for space in this area are considered too. With such volumes of traffic, the already intricate business of navigation of the area by ships crews becomes even more demanding.
As a result, numerous projects looking at traffic management have been born out of this situation. Multiple stakeholder projects like ACCSEAS and MONALISA have now been running for a number of years, looking at various ways of assisting in boosting the safety of vessels in various ways. These projects utilise a multitude of methodologies as part of their research. The one common basis across these projects, is that the key to these projects rests on making use of the e-Navigation concept.
e-Navigation, itself, is another recently added term in the ever expanding glossary of the mariner, representing the next generation of navigation by electronic means, a step forwards from the traditional methods. It provides the future of how vessels will conduct their voyage from location A to B via ports one, two and three. As an industry, we currently find ourselves in a period of transition. The timeline of which is largely being dictated by the International Maritime Organisations mandated ECDIS carriage requirements coming into force.
The benefits of ECDIS and the e-Navigation concept are well documented and well supported with evidence, not only benefitting operation of ships from a safety perspective, but also benefiting companies from a more streamlined business perspective. It is true that there have been incidents which have led to the unfortunate birth of the phrase ‘ECDIS assisted Incident’. From an overall perspective though, what the active development of e-Navigation has shown is the huge safety benefits it has brought about to ships. These benefits include live positioning, greater standardisation of chart updates, greater instrument integration and re-alignment of work demands, of watch-keeping officers, allowing an improved degree of situational awareness. All of these are, inarguably, important safety developments, which e-Navigation has acted to promote.
The benefit to individual vessels is clear. The benefits of wider programmes to make use of this e-Navigation potential, in the testbed environment of the North Sea, are being explored, in great depth. The very fact that this is made possible, is through the very modern cutting edge nature of many of the vessels found in the high profile industries in the North Sea, is to the credit of many operators in this area. What we as an industry must continue to do is embrace progression, and development potential in e-Navigation. To take this approach will allow us to strive for further development, and lead to the realisation of greater potentials in the safe operation of ships. With the projects to enhance this, already making use of e-Navigation technologies, we must continue to support e-Navigation. By promoting roll out on ships, its ongoing support onboard, as well as the ongoing training and development of seafarers and vessel management alike, we will not only meet compliance requirements, but strive to go over and above. This will allow us to develop a beyond compliance culture in order to embrace it as an industry. An industry, which if we continue to strive towards, and embrace such development, will progress this region as a world leading force working towards the goal of navigation affording improved safety of crews, ships and the environment.
Donald Donaldson BSc(Hons) MRIN AFNI
Director - ChartCo Training and Consulting
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