Maritime Analytics: The breadth of AIS usage [webinar]

An informative session and part of the Maritime Analytics Conference hosted by MarineTraffic featuring leading AIS industry experts

MarineTraffic and a host of industry experts came together for this digital session a few months ago during the Maritime Analytics Conference to discuss the breadth of the Automatic Identification System (AIS) usage and its role in international shipping and supply chains.

During this interactive session, more than 600 attendees who joined live (and nearly 1000 more on demand on YouTube) from over 110 countries around the world, had the opportunity to hear useful insights and also ask questions directly to our panelists. The audience also participated in a quick poll, voting on why AIS is important to them, and how often they use it in their daily work and operations.

As seen in the images below, the results were quite interesting and raised an engaging discussion afterward.

Watch the full webinar on-demand:

Dany: Okay, so hello, and welcome, everyone. Thank you so much for joining the first webinar of the MarineTraffic Marine Analytics Conference with today’s session focusing on the breadth of AIS usage and the importance of AIS to international shipping and supply chains.

Personally, I’d like to welcome and introduce today’s panelists, starting with our very own Head of Data, Stellios Stratidakis, who’s joined by Robert Taylor-Branco, Senior Account Manager at Vesseltracker, Mark Deverill, Head of Data Operations at Spire, and Andrew Loretta, Maritime Business Development at ORBCOMM. And so very big thank you to all of you for joining and bringing your expertise to the session.

Before we start, just a quick bit of housekeeping for the session, if you’d like to use the chat function throughout the webinar, please do so. If anyone has any questions, please write them in the Q&A box. As time permitting, hopefully, we’ll be able to select a couple of questions to ask at the end of the session. 

So to kick it off, in the best way possible I thought it might be useful to propose a quick poll to everyone to help facilitate the discussions we’ll be having. So you should be able to see the poll now. We’ll give about 30 seconds to answer the question, and then we’ll go through the answers. Give it another 10 seconds or so.

Okay, so we should be able to close the poll. Thank you so much to everyone who answered. So in terms of results, interesting so that’s quite a mixed result, actually, and a very good segue into the first question, which I will direct to Stellios. What would you say are the main effects AIS has had on safety, transparency, and overall decision-making within the maritime industry, Stellios?

Stellios: First of all, hello, everyone, and thanks to our fellow panelists for joining this really global audience I’m seeing in the chat. Okay, so I think this needs a bit of storytelling about the protocol itself. First of all, as many of us and people here might know, the AIS protocol has been primarily introduced in the early 2000s by the IMO as a means to enhance safety. Let’s see, so it was it’s primary, let’s say, aim. Becoming mandatory for commercial and passenger persons, of course, over the years, it first developed into a global awareness tool. And I think this was made possible due to its open nature, AIS is free waves in specific frequencies.

Now, as the custom networks of AIS-specific stations have been growing together with the capabilities, additional applications of the protocol have been made possible. These factors combined with the rise of technology and digitalisation has really enabled us to move from data, to information, to intelligence. Now, from a services provider point of view, in the early days it was all about putting dots on maps to showcase where vessels are. But the combination of the factors mentioned before I think enabled faster processing and archiving. And you know, as with many things in life, knowledge of the past helps with understanding and inferring what might happen in the future.

Nowadays, about 1 billion AIS messages get processed on a daily basis. And this data is continuously fused with other datasets and information sources to generate additional value. And at this point, I would really also like to point out how the shipping industry itself has been adopting data solutions over time. 

Moving from what started as potentially minor disruption to now becoming a reliable toolbox of high quality on a global scale. Something, the quality part that I think that all of us here in this panel are striving to through better understanding of the data. But this interplay with the industry also facilitated the federal understanding of real challenges. And the real world in ways that real data can be of service.

So this user, this customer-centric approach, and this knowledge exchange, pave the way for a wide array of applications based on AIS, ranging obviously, from real-time voyage monitoring and fleet optimisation, to asset management, asset maintenance, planning of services, and optimisation of resources, to business process automation. But also, standard level way of ships and ports, shows, to interface for the stakeholders. Not to mention regulatory compliance, monitoring, and, of course, sustainability goals and ways to minimise carbon footprint in the maritime sector.

So to sum up, all of these factors evolve together with an understanding of the macro level at the trends in the industry, form the, let’s say, the maritime analytics landscape where AIS is at the heart supporting safety. And also maintenance, visibility, transparency, and predictability on what happens in the oceans, which at the end of the day, leads to this decision to support intelligence.

Dany: Excellent, thank you so much, Stellios. And any thoughts from the rest of the panel on what Stellios has said?

Mark: Yeah, just in one area of the question about transparency. I think the obvious thing as added in terms of just pure safety, which obviously, its initial purpose is a safety protocol, is that it’s added transparency around incidents that occur. And it’s been used very heavily as a tool of analysis around any maritime collisions that have occurred since AIS became, you know, the standard for tracking. 

And it so much opened up an area which was closed before. You know, there was no visibility of anybody on anything that happened unless you had, you know, the radar or you import or you had a visual observation of an incident. Whereas now there’s data behind these incidents as well.

I mean, it amazes me that collisions still occur, you know, primarily down to human error, but down to a human error in not observing the AIS information that can happen. We’ve seen that with collisions in Singapore, but things like the Costa Concordia then, it will be 10 years back now, it’s the first big event I remember being really analysed by AIS where we all had visibility on marine traffic and ORBCOMM and people had the AIS data to show you what happened.

And to put out the trends and to show you how stupid the decisions that have been taken were in comparison to the normal behaviour. And it’s really opened up just in the safety curve, then instant analysis arena, a whole new opportunity to analyse and look deep and to question decisions. And hold people accountable, you know, just in the safety decisions, as well as other operational areas. That’s my bit.

Dany: Thank you very much.

Andrew: Yeah, I would just add to what Mark was saying is that you know, in terms of that transparency, visibility, it’s very interesting how AIS and the uses have evolved, right? 

Because AIS is a public broadcast system. And normally normal operations would say that, if you are supposed to be operating it, then if you’re not, then what’s going on, right? And so I think, you know, what’s happened is that AIS is kind of identifying the good guys or the good behaviour. And there’s a lot of other sensors and data now that can be used against AIS to kind of identify nefarious behavior or, you know, dark vessels.

And so it’s interesting that as AIS has been accepted and been used there are people that know they’re being watched and maybe they turn it off. But now, you know, we’ve developed other ways of kind of identifying if they turned it off, or maybe they’re doing something else. So it’s become kind of a background check as well as a tool.

Mark: Absolutely, to back up what Andrew is saying on the dark vessels, it’s become a standard now that you expect AIS to be transmitted and to be seen. And when you’ve not seen that, it’s now flagged that maybe something nefarious is going on. Which is a complete turnaround for when AIS was launched and there was a lot of suspicion about having this data open and available. 

And there was a strong movement to a degree against having the data shared. Whereas now we’ve seen so many benefits from it, that it’s become more of a standard that it should be shared, and should be available. And when you’re not seeing it, then a question has been asked, which is a complete turnaround from how things were originally.

Robert: I mean, you can even use the AIS itself to check if AIS is turned off, right? You can look at signals from other vessels within the same vicinities to see if there are similar age of the vessel that’s not transmitting signals to get a much better idea as to see whether or not AIS is on or off. So it even becomes an own sort of self-checking device in that sense.

Mark: Absolutely.

Stellios: Yeah. And I think that we have to point out that, you know, always leads to further ways of AIS becoming the standard, as mentioned, by everyone. And the mainstream way to understand what’s going on out there. And also further developing applications that pave the road for more and more visibility and transparency. I think this is a one-way road.

Mark: Absolutely, yeah.

Dany: Excellent. Thank you so much. And I guess as a follow-up question to that Robert. Mark mentioned I guess that the concerns, historic concerns around data being shared, how do you feel AIS has facilitated and enabled stability within the industry?

Robert: So thanks for that question. And thanks, Stellios, for setting the scene there. I’m gonna go back to a keyword that Stellios said here and it’s that transparency. I think this is the key element here to creating stability within the industry. And transparency and shipping as within any market provide a foundation for best practice, monitoring compliance to legislation, regulation, etc. It also provides a pragmatic approach to operations. And it also ensures that market fluctuation is more based on actual market factors such as supply and demand as opposed to the market easily being manipulated to, you know, a few key players that operate within the market.

If you look at the world of shipping, obviously, traditionally, it’s been a world that we’ve had very little insight into. It’s a global market. So it’s been very difficult to gain insight into it. It’s also been out on the sea. AIS, you know, I mean, into the operations of the vessel, we never had much insight into what was going on with the vessel. We never had much insight into vessel availability into the supply chain, supply chain in general, into the supply and demand of the goods and commodities being shipped around the globe.

And transparency has really remained quite a conundrum within the industry. 

And even to an extent where you know, the world of shipping, often companies within shipping work often profiting from that lack of transparency. And in a lot of cases, their strategy was based on the lack of transparency in the market. This obviously, you know, this is obviously very limited to a small group of companies who are able to take advantage of the lack of transparency. It really doesn’t encourage things like best practices within the industry. 

It also means it’s extremely difficult to monitor regulation, compliance, regulation to compliance, compliance to regulation. It also means, you know, key players within the market are able to manipulate the market much easier meaning, you know, minimum the market was not as stable as it could have been.

AIS data has really provided a platform to turn all that around. AIS data has been, I guess, could be providing some level of transparency into the world of shipping for at least 20 years with the addition of satellites. We’ve been, you know, providing global transparency and insight into shipping for at least 10 years. Which means we can now take a much more pragmatic approach on the application of data and knowledge gathered over time to shipping, and this on a global scale as well. It’s enabling us to be more adaptable and reactive to market conditions, as well as you know legislation which is something the industry has never been known for.

Some of the first use cases, I guess, were very simple. You’re able to sort of assess the average speed of a vessel over a voyage relative to fuel consumption. You could use AIS data to check vessel availability, meaning things like rates and consumption started to become more stable or at least be more leveled by supply and demand as opposed to market manipulation. I’m thinking AIS data even sort of provides an opportunity to startups, you know, that can help, they can even profit of creating solutions that create stability in the market.

AIS data has helped us to…it’s helped provide insight. It’s helped the shipping community adapt and comply to IMO 2020 regulations. We can now easily check the trading history of the vessel as part of the vetting process, which was not easy to do prior to AIS. We can look at fuel consumption data baselines, use AIS data then to help monitor and reduce emissions within the industry. Which is also helping us to comply to IMO 2020 regulations, but also create a more sustainable and stable industry, in general. We’re able to use it to create stability and sustainability within fishing by detecting illegal fishing.

I think there’s even if we look at a hot topic at the moment, port congestion, that’s really affecting the market in light of COVID, and creating a lot of market instability. AIS data also really provides us with opportunity and creates stability here. It’s a little bit of a plug. I mean, we’re currently working on developing AIS-based solutions that provide a measure of port congestion, as well as a tool to predict port congestion and assess voyage costs. 

I guess, once we’ve been using that over time, that tool can then be used, you know, to develop or to create the ability to make decisions around how you charter your vessel based on time, based on fuel, based on emissions, based on costs, etc.

And there’s a bunch of different ways it’s created stability when the market…I think again, the key element there is transparency. I mean, AIS data has provided, I think, for the first time real transparency into shipping and it looks like it will continue to do so out into the future.

Dany: Thank you, yeah, and I’ve written down four words that you said I think pretty much sum up the utility and diverse utility of AIS transparency, adaptability, stability, sustainability. And I guess opening it up, Andrew, what would you add?

Andrew: Yeah, you know, it’s leveled the playing field. It’s democratised shipping. It’s given us insights into information that we previously didn’t have. If I just take it from a perspective of if I go to the store, and I don’t understand why things aren’t on the shelves. And I can go back and see, well, you know, there’s a supply problem. Why is there a supply problem? Well, it’s because there’s a bunch of ships outside of Long Beach, California that can’t dock and offload. Okay. Well, you know, that sort of information wasn’t available only, you know, 10 years ago, the way it is now, or the way it’s being processed now.

When MarineTraffic started 14 years ago, it was more of a cooperative of, you know, people that we’re looking at vessels, and you kind of opted in. And it was neat to kind of look at dots on a map. But the way that the data has been used and people found utility in it so quickly, in a lot of different applications that we’ve already just named here, is it’s pretty extraordinary when you think about it. And you know, somebody once, actually you probably all know who Guy Thomas is but he said, you know, I think, you know, AIS is the next great thing since GPS. And initially, I was like, “Well, that’s kind of a stretch.”

But when you think about it, and you think about how much we rely on it, you know, it’s kind of true. It’s really been the big game-changer that we’ve seen in the last 20 years in terms of visibility. As human beings we wanna know what’s around the corner, right? So this is kind of given us that we built you know, a lot of reliance on it now.

Stellios: If I may add I think that it is important to note that we’re talking about data and analytics here which means that all these applications. And I’m sure that as we keep talking more and more will keep popping up. I mentioned, which means that can be tied to the business, let’s say, goals, regardless of the specific line of business. And this is why we keep coming up through this interplay with the industry with more applications, and the protocol itself keeps evolving. This means that you know, KPIs tied to the business world can be captured and monitored. And the AIS is quite vital in that.

And also in terms of overall stability, and as this digitalisation process moves on, and the global demand rises as well, it’s very important, I think, to note that, okay, AIS is global but maritime, and maritime events are captured everywhere. Anywhere in the world which means that it can serve the needs of specific use cases in specific regions around the world as well. Which means it can shift according to these use cases. And this is, I think, fundamental for stability, especially through volatile times, such as the ones that we have all been experiencing during this past couple of years.

Robert: Yeah, agree, agreed. I mean, it really definitely gives us the ability to avoid market manipulation to help create stability, really, the ability to react, you know, when market conditions change, which also helps to create stability.

Mark: I would add to that on the topic of stability, I mean, stability comes from uncertainty, you know, risk comes from uncertainty. Where with the transparency, we now have the stability of reporting the data. So there’s far less uncertainty about what’s actually happening now that everything can be tracked like it can through AIS. And that definitely helps bring general stability to the provision of information. You know, prior to AIS people knew a ship sailed with cargo with oil, and they probably knew where it was going to.

It had been declared that maybe they didn’t, maybe the owners only knew. And then they probably wouldn’t hear anything again, for 10, 15, 20 days, depending on the voyage. Whereas now we know everything up front and we can monitor it throughout the picture throughout their voyage. And anybody can make decisions as they see the situation changing and conditions changing within the market on a global view. So there’s far less uncertainty driving bad decisions on that basis. I mean, there’s still scope, but it’s a lot less reduced than what was prior to that.

Dany: Excellent, very interesting. Thank you so much for that. And so, before we move on to the next question, and I guess in keeping with the theme of the practical applications of AIS within the industry. I’d like to share a second poll with everyone if that’s okay, and hopefully, it should be on a screen. There you go. And I’ll give you another 30 seconds and then we can go over that. Thank you. Okay, I’ll give it another 10 seconds or so.

Perfect. Thank you very much to everyone. I’ll share the answers now. Okay, so again, quite the mix primarily to monitor vessels’ whereabouts performances, which I guess to an extent you would imagine. I guess following up from this and this is perhaps a question for you, Andrew. Exactly how vital is AIS to international shipping and today’s connected supply chains?

Andrew: Well, I would say that the whole global supply chain has built all of their monitoring performance and analytics systems around AIS now. You know all the top global manufacturers in the world and not just the top ones but a lot of them all ingest AIS data to know where components are to know where their products are. Whether it’s shipping companies, freight forwarders, ports, terminals, they all rely on AIS and they’ve built some very sophisticated systems around the data that comes from AIS. Since it’s a public broadcast system, it’s not proprietary data, it’s just kind of been, I think, in some ways taken for granted that it’s just always gonna be around.

And you can build, you know, the greatest analytics platforms around it, because it’s data now that’s very, you know, widely available. So, you know, we probably have kind of underestimated or not appreciated enough how vital AIS is to…

Dany: Seems to have lost Andrew there for a second. Hopefully, he’ll come back. It wouldn’t be a live webinar without some kind of technical difficulties. Please bear with us, he’ll be back. In the meantime, perhaps we open it up. And then when Andrew comes back, we can let him finish. Robert.

Robert: Just remind me of the topic we’re talking about.

Dany: And so we’re talking around how vital AIS is to international shipping and the connected supply chain.

Robert: Yeah, I mean, I think as Andy was saying, we are really using AIS data to monitor what’s going on within the supply chain. I think one of the big reasons for that is it’s, you know, it is one of the…it is the only truly global data set out there that does provide that sort of insight into the market. 

So, it really gives you not only the option to look into your own shipments, but it also gives you the option to lock into your competitor’s shipments. It gives you the option to look into the market relative to say specific fleets that you’re operating within. And look at how you’re performing relative to a specific fleet within the market.

Yeah, I think it also gives us you know, it segues into being able to create other applications off the back of that AIS data. So we’re able to do things like geofencing, create areas, which are known terminals, etc. So we can automate things like arrivals and departures of vessels, create alerts when things change within a data as well. Does anyone else have anything to add to that? I think Andy’s…

Dany: It looks like Andrew’s back. Hello, we missed you, Andrew.

Andrew: Yeah, sorry. I was gonna say that AIS is vital as having electricity. We lost electricity here for a moment. 

Robert: Glad to have you back.

Andrew: Yeah, so you know, just to reiterate, yeah, I mean, you know, all of these global systems have been built around AIS. And so you know, to take it away, is I think, you know, you understand the vitality of the data.

Mark: If I can add, I mean, when you think about supply chain, and it’s often been about just-in-time supply, just-in-time scheduling. You know, optimising processes and streamlining and AIS has been key to that. If you think about the amount of cargo that is transported on the water, I mean, 90% of everything is the figure often quoted. It used to be quoted higher, but aviation’s had a little bit of an inroad into the business, but it’s still, you know, the majority of cargoes are shipped internationally on water. 

And all the processes have been streamlined to cut costs to operate as efficiently as possible which is where AIS brings a benefit to help that efficiency. And helps you identify whether that’s… You can’t do without that real-time information.

If you’re looking to schedule the stevedores to be at the port or to meet your cargoes, you need to know with accuracy when the ship’s gonna arrive. And see whether that’s on track and then readjust your plans around that. If you’re a pilot looking to meet the ships, you know, you don’t wanna get in the pilot boat and head out to sea unless you know the ship’s going to be there. You’ve got radio communication and stuff.

But it’s a classic example of the marine traffic controllers of Long Beach recently on a podcast said, you know, before they had all the congestion pre-pandemic, vessels were arriving off Long Beach, Los Angeles, within about 30 minutes variation of meeting their pilot and making their slot. 

It was incredibly accurate to know that a large container ship carrying 20,000 containers going from China to West Coast USA with a slot of 30 minutes. You know, and AIS is a key part of monitoring that and having those operations being able to perform to that level of efficiency in many, many areas. You know, not just pilots meeting the ships, but the birthing slots or the provision of services to the ships.

It’s made an incredible difference to the point where, you know, it’s now probably commoditised in terms of we expect to have that as a building block to put all these extra efficiencies and applications on top of. I think AIS has transformed what you can do in a maritime market and how operations can be managed, the efficiencies you can gain just from having that insight. And then building it by fusing it with other information on padding that you’ve got.

Robert: Yeah, really it really does give you the ability to assess where that bottleneck is, right. So we can look at the term…is the bottleneck in the terminal? Is it the available length key? Is it the number of private vessels? Is it the number of college vessels, right? How do we adapt to that? Do we need to have more pilotage? Do we need to have more dynamic fleets, you know, are we operating vessels that are too large? Do we need to create new terminals, etc.? So it really helps us to identify where the bottleneck is, and then to be creative in our solutions about how we adapt to that.

Stellios: This is exactly how the more we’ll talk about it, the more applications keep popping up. And, you know, to make it more relatable, I think to the audience as well, it might help to relate it to our own personal habits during these past two years. I mean, we order more stuff. There is a change, there’s a total shift in the way that supply chains operate. And just imagine, you know, our ability to know where our package, our parcel is, and this is the analogy in the shipping world. And, you know, this can be materialised through the AIS. There’s no other system out there that can do this.

And also, I think that it is also indicative of how shipping is what actually kept this world moving during this time, it was a prime example of importance. Now, the logistics in manufacturing industries as mentioned by Andrew are, I think leading this change towards the digitalisation. But the adoption of instant solutions and data has driven applications is expanding, and the change is happening. And we’ve noticed that in our own lives, and it’s happening at scale when cargo is moved. So instead of fighting, I think we better embrace it and think of the next applications.

Andrew: Yeah, we’ve kind of created a monster with it. You know, it’s so kind of taken for granted and there’s just so many things that have been built around it now going back to all of the examples that were mentioned here. And, you know, it’s kind of hard to think of what it was like, before we had this sort of visibility, right?

Mark: Oh, god, yes, I do remember, but it’s hard to go back to it. If I can add something, so, going back to the original question here was how vital AIS is to international shipping and today’s connected supply chain. I might even dare to consider that it’s more vital to the supply chain than it is to international shipping. Because all the additional applications which are monitoring the shipping in real-time.

You know, once the captain is in control of the vessel on the voyage, he’s pretty cool. He’s got his voyage plan, he’s got his route, he’s got his weather information. He’s got his instructions. He’s not really monitoring the AIS for himself or his competitors. It’s people monitoring the market that are making the most use of this. It’s traders looking at the situation. It’s operations, applications. It’s people looking at efficiencies, who are looking at AIS.

I would probably suggest that AIS is more vital to the supply chain and the applications around business management than it is to shipping from that point of view. Okay, you said we created a monster, and the monster’s gone off in a completely different direction. But it’s a good monster.

Dany: It’s interesting because I guess one of the…we spoke about one of the biggest benefits of AIS, is the efficiency that it adds to the industry. Also, in spite of external issues and circumstances that can’t be controlled. Going back to you, Mark, and how do you feel the pandemic has influenced the demand for maritime analytics?

Mark: Interesting, I think the pandemic has influenced the demand for analytics, not just maritime. We’ve all become data scientists in the last 18 months, right? Even those of us who were before become now familiar with all the data science around COVID, the pandemic spread numbers, our numbers, all this kind of thing, vaccination rates. And it’s also tied in very nicely to maritime analytics because AIS is all about what is happening, you know, which in some ways similar to the pandemic, it’s all been about monitoring what’s happening. And straight away with the pandemic had an immediate effect on downtime in global maritime transport, maritime trade.

You know, as the pandemic took hold in China before it took hold in Western Europe or the Western nations, we immediately saw a downturn in maritime activity coming out of China. And then when it finally reached the Western shores, we saw a downturn in everything and people wanted to know what is happening.

And then we could tell that from AIS, you know, we’re all putting reports out there saying, “Well, this was the tanker activity last week or last month, this is the tanker activity this month. This was the cruise ship activity. This is the cruise ship activity now.” You know, immediately we can verify what’s happening. We give people confidence with the data, the backup. The reports are saying, “Yeah, activity is dying, things aren’t getting out, things aren’t getting in.” AIS was able to help verify that.

And I think it’s helped strengthen the demand for data-driven analytics, you know, it was already a growing trend. Sometimes maritime’s always been a little bit slow to adapt. But I see a continual growth in demand for maritime analytics, you know, starting first with AIS and then fusing other data that we have. And Rob you mentioned port polygons, and somebody else mentioned other data. And we take what we have to create that next level of insight, which helps people understand what’s happening in the world they’re operating in. You know, and help give them some foresight into the near-term future, at least.

I think the pandemic has helped drive that. I can’t really put a measure on how much it’s helped drive it compared to how much it was a trend anyway of growth. And we’re already on an upward growth past the data analytics and maritime analytics. But definitely, I think it’s helped because it’s created some new situations, which, you know, we didn’t expect and had to suddenly look into.

Nobody would expect tanker activity to drop off 40% in March last year, wherever it did in the U.S. Gulf. Nobody would expect the cruise market to just die. Nobody would expect China to be backlogged as much as it has been at different times during a pandemic. And we needed insights into what’s happening. So it brings a level of stability, as we mentioned earlier, and be able to get that view in the maritime world.

So I think it’s really that we’ve been able to report on these things with confidence with data-driven insight. And I think that’s helped drive and will continue to help drive demand for maritime analytics as you see what can happen. And the best example of that is probably the ongoing situation in Long Beach, Los Angeles. Andy mentioned that and they’ve had problems ongoing since autumn last year. You know, we’re all running stories I think, October last year, when we were really waking up with that, and Long Beach was getting backed up then. And it’s been continuing up and down since and now that’s had ripple effects back in the global supply market.

And everybody knows that there’s 100 plus vessels anchored off Los Angeles, Long Beach. Everybody knows it’s a global supply chain problem. You know, everybody’s seeing metrics that say, “Okay, it’s not just the West Coast U.S. now, it’s also bits of China, it’s bits of Europe that are getting bottlenecked.”

So you know, there’s a vast awareness that’s come out of the pandemic driven situation, which I think has been great for advertising, what we can do. And we’ll probably build new businesses going forward as people realise, “Oh, hey, we can give insight into this or make an advantage.” You know, and information is all about finding a business edge to save yourself and make yourself some money. And AIS has been doing that with brokers and people in operations for a decade. And now more people are waking up to what can be done because we’re making it clear what can be done.

And I guess the other example that has happened during the pandemic was… Oh, I’m blanking on the name of the ship that blocked the Suez Canal, the Ever Given. You know, it blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week. 

We know that that’s happened a few times in the past and AIS has given insight onto that when it’s happened in the past. But I don’t remember it ever happening for so long. I don’t remember it ever happening during a pandemic when we already had supply problems, you already had kind of news about things being delayed and congestion. And so the effect was even more significant this time around.

And, you know, we had a lot of analytics that was being provided from AIS and monitoring maritime trade. I don’t think it ever come out in a single news event before. So it’s been a perfect storm, you know, with a pandemic, the ability and how AIS and maritime has been involved in the effects of the pandemic. That really is kind of been great for showing what we can do and showing people how maritime can go forward.

Robert: Yeah, I think that that’s true. I mean, and also looking at that, like the Suez Canal event, it gives us the ability to reality check what’s going on as well. We had port authorities there telling us, you know, a vessel is going to be out within this number of hours, where and we could utilise AIS data to actually confirm what was going on. And then look at, you know, the trickle-down effects of what that was in other areas and other parts in the market.

I think it also helps us a lot of the solutions we then create, we’re able to identify and create and become translatable to other markets within the market as well. Like if we’re looking at what’s happening in Long Beach, we create solutions for people to figure out how to operate relative to that trickles down to operations within the dryer market within tanker markets. It’s enabled us to look at port congestion within those markets as well. To cost our voyages better, to choose how we’re going to charter our vessels much more appropriately, etc.

Stellios: Yeah, to connect this with the comments before about the supply chain. It’s really hard to imagine what would be the process was mentioned the congestion in L.A. It was mentioned the stress of not knowing what goes on. That would not have been possible. The only relevant source of information would be fiscal sources of Port Authorities with some level of delay, maybe. 

AIS is real-time, and you can always have a look on what’s going on and make business decisions based on that or understand how a major event might unfold.

If I may add on the pandemic, I think that in the beginning there was, of course, a lot of uncertainty. And I think that we all experienced that and some decision-making delays and so on. But on the other hand, and talking about application of AIS, it was notable. I really liked what Mark mentioned about all of us becoming more data-savvy in the process and requests for analytics and aggregate views. And then this makes total sense. Because in turbulent times, we’re trying to build our understanding and to build understanding and make decisions, we need information, we need data.

And I think it also paved the way for even more applications from non-core shipping companies like financial institutions, or governmental bodies. And organisations who are trying to build an understanding of how all this might unfold from a supply-demand perspective and so on. On the positive side, I think that if I can say that about the pandemic, but timing was good, in the sense that the process of digitalisation was already happening. And eventually, everything, all this change naturally accelerated this adoption and coming up with novel solutions and ways to understand what goes on first.

Andrew: Yeah, there’s also an accountability factor here too. You know, AIS is if you’re broadcasting AIS, you’re telling somebody who you are, where you are, where you’re going, and what speed. And you’re basically making yourself accountable for your actions. And that has led to accountability in terms of efficiency showing up when you’re supposed to show up, you know, being on time. You know, we sit back, and we wanna know why things are late.

We wanna know, you know, what the issue is. In the case of, you know, Long Beach, California, you know, even before there was satellite AIS, you could stand up on the top of the hill, and you could look and see that there were 40 or 50 vessels that were at anchor out there. And, you know, you probably wonder, “Okay, well, why you know, what’s going on? Is that the longshoremen that are just kind of taking their time, you know, and just offloading things? And is there any sense of urgency? Or is there, you know, what’s driving people to kind of get things done?”

And I think, you know, the pandemic kind of made people want more accountability on a lot of these types of things in the global supply chain, you know, why is there a problem? Where’s the bottleneck, as Rob was talking about? And what can we do to resolve it? 

So, you know, that visibility and transparency has helped in terms of accountability with moving things around the globe. So you know, that’s a big aspect that is, you know, we just want to kind of know if there’s a problem, why, and what’s gonna get done with it? And AIS has definitely been an underpinning for that.

Dany: Thank you so much. That was really, really insightful and in the interest of time, and I mean, we could continue talking about this in particular, because this is incredibly topical. We will move on to the Q&A section, but for the time being, thank you so much for your insight on these questions. We’ve received a lot of questions, but I do have to keep it to two, I think, we should be able to get to. And the first question I will open this up to everyone. And so please chip in as you see fit. How can we make sure AIS keeps evolving and remains a powerful and useful tool? And what actions should be taken?

Mark: I think it’s already a powerful and useful tool. And it’s established with a lot of dependencies on it, you know, both with as a safety tool as its primary function and as a monitoring tool. I mean, the plans for AIS are to go beyond AIS with the DDS proposals which are out there, you know, still in the early days. They will allow AIS to remain as a core safety message, but the safety monitoring messaging system. But the messaging that comes with that in its next iteration will allow the kind of monitoring based around AIS the application exchanging information. Almost an IoT type, a solution to be run alongside AIS as well.

So I think there are already plans to evolve it in a way that makes sense that keeps the core of AIS as it is and allows additional kinds of application functions to run alongside AIS, but in an expanded protocol using different radio channels and frequencies. 

So AIS is not bottlenecked, by other messages, which kind of are taking up bandwidth. So I think there’s already plans to expand it, they’re probably just not well known yet because it’s in the discussion. It’s in the prototype stage, it’s not yet realised. And as soon as it’s realised, people will see that there’ll be AIS as part of EDs with other services alongside which allowed you to become part of a bigger picture. You know, including two-degree two-way communications for applications as well as just the ship operators.

Stellios: Yeah, this is, I think, pretty indicative of the evolution of the protocol itself, the AIS that we have been discussing all this time will be a subset with the capabilities. So imagine what can be achieved as we move forward with that. Another aspect I would like to point out on this question is that what has been shown is that the way forward in an effective manner is more collaboration, more willingness to get I mean, across industries across companies.

And I think that this sense of connection is what is really boosting chances for further evolution. Given what has been discussed today and again, from a services provider point of view, I think that there’s no effective data platform if the user or the customer is not at the center of it.

And this is what also creates this potential for value flywheels. Where users can also fuse more data sources provided, of course, the security and safety of this data is guaranteed. And answers the question, you know, why should I connect my let’s say puzzle pieces with yours? And the answer is that because this is what builds benefits, eventually and materialising to business goals. And I can only imagine what the effects of that might be, given where we are and where we might get.

It is very vital, as mentioned fundamental if we’re talking about an industry-standard, more or less, when we talk about AIS. Which is global, which is easily exploitable from, say computer perspective. I think the end goal is to facilitate these decisions and to end up with digital solutions that work for the people who use them, and not the other way around.

Andrew: Yeah, the, you know, the channel, the radio frequency congestion on AIS, it’s an issue as there are more broadcasters that are being put out there. There’s a lot more co-channel interference. I mean, AIS was not designed to be picked up from satellite, it just so happens that we can. AIS was designed for safety and collision avoidance. But because of all of these newer applications that have come up. You know, people are finding, you know, it’s great too, especially when you talk about fisheries monitoring, or artisanal fisheries, and Class B AIS. Which, while that’s on a lower wattage, if you have a lot of these different broadcasters in one area, it pretty much just washes out the channel.

So how do you cope with that? And how do you open up additional channels, like what Mark was saying with VDES? And what can you do there? 

You know, you can do like he’s mentioned, you know, IoT. It’s two-way messaging that can be done there then to kind of, you know, open up the amount of information that’s being exchanged between two ships or ship-to-shore, or, you know, ship-to-shore via satellite. 

So, those sorts of things are gonna continue to, I think, be developed. I don’t think there’s any slowing down or there’s any reversing course. The technology is just gonna continue to accelerate but there’s going to have to be consensus and agreement in terms of how all that gets done.

You know, a lot of that is done at the ILR or IMO level, right? Global regulatory level, which doesn’t always move very fast, and one of the issues is the technology moves a lot faster than the regulatory side of it. 

And so, you know, how do we get more quicker kind of response time in terms of acceptance, or even mandating, you know, some of these things. Because, inherently, it’s a safety system with a lot of other benefits. But, you know, there’s…you come down to, you know, the human aspect and I think that’s kind of where you can continue to make the argument, the data remains to be free. Or free in the sense of it needs to be public and not, you know, limited by any state, and it needs to continue to be allowed to be accessed.

Dany: Agreed. And I think the second question that actually kind of slots in quite well, and this is, I guess, a challenging question, given it’s happened, something’s happening fairly recently. And we’re looking at and we spoke about earlier, the efficiency, the transparency, the stability that AIS provides to the industry. If we were to look at the flip side of this, to what extent do you all think that spoofing and AIS data manipulation will have an impact on the analysis?

Mark: So if you’re talking about the analysis that we currently do with AIS. I mean, we’ve all discussed this at different times how much spoofing is out there. You know, and the majority of players are good players, the majority of operators are good operators. And several companies have been developing different ways of trying to identify good and bad reports, you know, dark vessels, spoof vessels, anomalies. And we’re all kind of slowly developing different algorithms around this to try and identify what is good and what is possibly not good. And that will continue.

In terms of the effect of spoofing, I don’t think it will ever be significant enough to detract from the value that people can get from the analysis as possible with the data. But it is a distinct area in its own right that needs looking into particularly when you’re looking, you know, for bad behaviors. And it’s the tools around that are getting stronger, particularly when you use satellite kind of observations. Other types of observations, imaging or satellite mass radar imaging with AIS is happening in several companies, you know, two of us here are doing that.

So we’re developing better tools to try and recognise and handle the spoofing to reduce the effect of it. But also to highlight it as a separate issue that can be investigated separately. But I think it detracts from the overall good and the overall analysis, which is possible and continued to be possible if I’m being honest.

Robert: Yeah.

Andrew: And I think spoofing helps identify the bad actors. It’s not good data, but there’s people that will want that data specifically because they want to look for those nefarious activities that are going on. You know, there’s always gonna be people that they’re gonna, you know, pretend that they’re in one place when they’re really in another place for whatever reason.

But, you know, the technology that is already available and going to be more widely available that will allow that kind of, you know, secondary check. Or sanity check of, “Okay, well, this AIS message is telling me that this guy is here, is that really true?” And I think, you know, we’ll be able to go back to other data points and say, “Well, actually, no, you know, that person isn’t there.” So that information is wrong. That information that secondary, you know, check validation will be more widely available, as time goes on. And, you know, it’s in some ways, bad data is good data to kind of tell you that those types of things are happening.

Mark: Absolutely. I mean, in data science, you are always gonna look for the age cases and decide what to do. It’s just another example of that really.

Stellios: It takes an outlier to understand what goes on with it and as Mark mentioned, I think this is a small fraction. But it can also be useful to understand how the quality of AIS, which can keep improving in the process, which is a challenge from outside both, coastal and satellite providers. But also basic ground for some additional use cases like creating foul play, and so on. And also, we always have to keep in mind that this is what happens with any real data set. But there will always be attempts to bypass or either for illicit behaviors.

So, I think that the bottom line here is that we cannot sacrifice for the greater good, which this brings to the table for research cases. And through these cases, we can also think of opportunities for the future. So, yeah, that would be my take.

Robert: I think they can. The continued application of the data itself is important in both instances, right, to make sure it remains an important tool to make sure you know, we are able to detect anomalies within that data is to continue that application of it. And I mean, AIS really has solidified itself and is something that will stay in the market. I’m sure it will evolve. And, you know, that will be due to the recognition of bad data. So spoofing will help AIS data to evolve into an even more powerful tool.

Mark: So I mean, there was a question I saw earlier from, I think, Phil Buckley and the question saying, you know, that AIS will need to evolve and adapt to survive. I think we’re already doing that, you know, we’re fusing AIS with many things, to find the higher value to assess the accuracy, you know, to look at AIS itself and say, what’s good, what’s bad. And I think what involves will be the applications and the uses of different datasets alongside AIS. It will get us far more valuable insights, you know, at different levels.

Dany: Yeah, great. Thank you very much. Excellent. So, this has actually taken us very nicely to the end of the webinar on time. So I have successfully completed my task in all of this. So I guess first and foremost, thank you so much, again, to the panelists, and everyone who joined. I hope the attendees found value from it. And I certainly commend everyone in the panel for sharing their expertise and knowledge for us.

Finally, just a couple of things from our end, the webinar has been recorded and will be circulated to everyone, along with a short survey. So we would ask kindly that the survey be completed because this will help ultimately, us to continue to provide quality content to our networks. So please do lookout for that. 

And lastly, a reminder that next week, we will be hosting the second webinar of the series. This will be centered around maritime analytics to understand global trade. So if you haven’t registered yet, please do feel free to do so. In the meantime, thank you again to everyone. I know that you’ve joined from all corners of the earth, and it’s good to see people say good morning and people say good night but yeah, thank you so much, and enjoy the rest of your days.

Robert: Thanks, everybody.

Andrew: Thank you all.

Stellios: Thank you.