The Indian Maritime Day on 5th April provides an opportunity for our sailors to look at their charts and measure the success logged so far. It’s also an occasion to hasten the pace of progress in this critical domain. The author provides a glimpse of the journey so far while dwelling more deliberately on the challenges ahead.
“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt
India’s National Maritime Day is conducted on 5th April every year since 1964 to commemorate the maiden voyage of an Indian owned ship “SS Loyalty” of Scindia Steam Navigation from Mumbai to London on the 5th April 1919. This voyage established an Indian representation in the British controlled sea routes. With such key pro-independence efforts, the shipping trade was well-established post-
independence and today India boasts of vibrant shipping industry. India has now twelve major and two hundred non-major ports, with these ports handling 95 per cent of the international trade for India. India provides about 9 per cent of the seafarers to global shipping and is the third-largest marine manpower hub. The National Maritime Day is an occasion to remember the doyens of the shipping industry, along with the courageous seafarers and the institutions which have evolved to make this industry vibrant.
The seafarers help in transporting 80 per cent of global food, oil, medicines, finished and raw goods trade. During the ongoing pandemic, they too were highly stressed since it resulted in thousands of seafarers being stuck onboard ships beyond their contractual obligations due to travel restrictions, quarantine etc. This translated into a crew rotation crisis as even the seafarers on land were unable to travel to join
ships for duties. The shore leave at various ports was also curtailed. DG Shipping had promulgated stringent instructions to the shipping companies to evolve a disease outbreak management plan for dealing with occurrences onboard as per the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. Onboard a vessel, the close live-in quarters make it difficult to control the spread of viruses. This led to cruise shipping
business world over to collapse as the implementation of containment and quarantine procedures was difficult on the passenger liners.
A ship even while at an anchorage away from a port requires all its machinery to be running and maintained. In fact, due to the pandemic, ship machinery was running for extended hours, and the crisis even interrupted the mandated dry-dock survey routines of the ship for sea-worthiness certification. This created a backlog of demand on the sparsely manned dry-docks so much so that till the end of March
2021, the DG Shipping was still handling requests for further extensions of the Certificates. The pandemic times have been a real test of the strength of Indian shipping.
Mercantile Shipping Risks
Indo-Pacific region carries 46 per cent of global trade and 50 per cent of India’s trade and this makes it mandatory for India to safeguard its interest in the Indo-Pacific region. The prevailing geopolitical situation in the Indo-Pacific leads to shipping being a critical dimension in the Indian security framework. In case of any hostilities, the supply of raw material, fuel, and food etc., for India shall be dependent on the continuous safety of the Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs) for shipping by the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard.
The maritime trade faces multiple risks at high seas, some are natural (like weather conditions) and others manmade like a piracy attack. Indian Navy is responsible for the protection and safe passage of mercantile shipping in the Indian Ocean Region and it has established a Maritime Information Centre for making the seas secure for the shipping trade. The Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) has been specifically set up since 2018 to share the maritime non-sensitive information with other friendly nations to improve the safety of ships. An Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) also has been set up within the premises of the IFC-IOR complex and this is jointly administered by the Indian Coast Guard. IMAC integrates the network of sensors and equipment (like coastal
radars etc.) to display real-time situational awareness on the Indian coastline. The main incidents monitored by these Information Centers are:
- Piracy, armed robbery and Irregular human migration
- Maritime terrorism and contraband smuggling
- Illegal Unreported Unregulated (IUU) fishing
- Natural events and Security of marine environment
- Any other maritime incidents
Evolving Maritime Digital Transformation
The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and DG Shipping have been recommending the utilization of numerous technological advancements to make shipping safe and secure. The Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention is an international maritime treaty that defines the minimum safety standards for merchant ships. India’s SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) programme designates India as a partner and First Responder in the IOR region. Such initiatives require extensive Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) using the latest digital systems like AIS (Automatic Identification Systems), Satellite monitoring and other telecommunication equipment. The recent ongoing pandemic also highlighted the need for eliminating paperwork and digitalization in the shipping industry through integrated ports and ships. Some of the modern digital systems being deployed in the maritime community are:
- Space based Automatic Identification System (SAT-AIS). Automatic Identification System (AIS) is an important equipment for maritime safety and vessel traffic management. As per IMO, it is mandatory for all large sea-going vessels to be operating AIS onboard. This equipment broadcasts the ship’s position along with a short message stream about the voyage etc. THE existing AIS system had range limitations as it worked in the VHF frequency band. The need for global coverage resulted in the innovation of a space-based AIS. Satellite-based AIS (SAT-AIS) enables the tracking of vessels in a larger area by using the technique of AIS message retransmission by low Earth orbit satellites. The system provides close to a hundred per cent ship detection and identification probability (for up to a thousand ships in a particular area). Further, the SAT-AIS uses Software-defined technology that allows for a complete in-orbit re-configuration of the system.
- Maritime Cloud Services. VHF Data Exchange System (VDES) facilitates a two-way high-speed data exchange between ships, satellites and shore. The AIS is a part of the VDES System which uses the Gaussian Minimum Shift Keying (GMSK) modulation technique. The communication protocol is designed for data communication for e-Navigation and access to a Maritime Cloud service.
- Artificial Intelligence. Weather conditions play an important role in the safety of the ships on high seas. Cyclonic conditions can make navigation difficult and put the cargo at risk. The Space-based weather sensors are providing humongous real-time data on the environmental conditions on Earth and this data has to be processed rapidly to gain real-time results. The required data churning can be carried out efficiently by Machine Learning or Deep Learning Neural Networks.
- Industry 4.0. The Government’s Sagarmala initiative targets port-related developments in India and comprises a National Perspective Plan (NPP) for the overall development of India’s coastline and maritime sector for efficiency. Ports and terminals are required to be highly efficient and digitalization of the processes to achieve automation is being planned. The Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0 is the solution as a way ahead here. Industry 4.0 is cyber-physical technology that harnesses multiple techniques like Industrial Information of Things (IIoT), Machine Learning, Big data Analytics, Cloud Computing etc. to improve the processes for effectiveness and efficiency. Global Supply Chain Integration of Shipping and Ports shall evolve into smart solutions like Shipping 4.0 and Ports 4.0.
- Cyber Security. With digitalization transformation for automation in the shipping industry, it is expected that the maritime industry shall be a target of cyber-criminals. IMO Resolution MSC.428 (98) describes the ship’s Safety Management System (SMS) accounting for the cyber risk management compliance as per the Information Security Management code. With effect from 01 January 2021, the requirement of integrating the cybersecurity risk into the onboard safety management systems has been mandated for the seagoing vessels. The standards are based on US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) cybersecurity guidelines to identify or detect the risks and mitigation plan to protect the marine assets.
India’s social and industrial sustenance shall continue to be highly dependent upon the huge shipping apparatus, with the blue economy already an important contributor to India’s growth. An urgency to establish enhanced shipping services under a larger Indian-flagged fleet shall add to India’s preparedness at all times. Though the Land borders require to be defended, the sea borders are not only to be defended but also kept open for the nation’s sustainability and stability during any blockade by a hostile nation. With vast oceans on three sides of the Indian peninsula, the focus on shipping and seafarers being considered as essential services needs a serious re-designation during planning and budgeting stages. Further, whereas the technologies like Shipping 4.0 and Ports 4.0 may seem to be expensive initially, but these maybe the only way ahead for a secure, profitable and sustainable shipping industry for India.
Cdr. Milind Kulshreshtha (Retd)
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BharatShakti.in)