Using AIS Data to Improve Operations and Protect Maritime Assets

Jason Tieman, Oceaneering Director of Maritime Solutions, Global Data Solutions (GDS)/PortVision, writes about the importance of utilising Automatic Identification Systems to their full potential. 

While all major oil companies currently use Automatic Identification System (AIS) data to optimise operations through a more comprehensive understanding of vessel movements in and around their assets, they are not likely to be using this data to its fullest extent. Web-based solutions have allowed organisations to remotely collect vessel positions based on AIS, radar or other methods, so they can monitor vessel activities from anywhere in the world. These tools increase visibility to both real-time and historical commercial vessel traffic, and include a variety of other capabilities (from activity logging and process management to business analysis and reporting capabilities) while also providing a single collaborative platform that enables multiple stakeholders to share the same view. 

Track of a cargo vessel passing over a pipeline corridor under Port Fourchon

Track of a cargo vessel passing over a pipeline corridor under Port Fourchon

In addition to improving the productivity, safety and efficiency of an organisation’s assets and/or fleets, these tools also provide monitoring and analytics capabilities for assessing the threat of vessels encroaching on high-risk areas (such as near submerged pipelines or unmanned fixed assets), along with the ability to preemptively alert nearby vessels, via an AIS aid to navigation (ATON), when the vessels’ activities indicate that a strike may be imminent.

These types of services offer fact-based assessments of imminent threats to an infrastructure, using real-time vessel position data obtained directly from a vessel’s global positioning system (GPS). By archiving this vessel position data historically, trend analytics can be used to better direct the funding related to survey locations, maintenance schedules and risk 

mitigation strategies. The ability to quickly collect and assess all this data around all of an operator’s assets enables infrastructure operators the ability to actively collaborate with vessel operators on collision avoidance by continuously assessing AIS vessel position data and/or radar information – thus preempting strikes while also improving operators’ risk mitigation strategies. 

CAMO Launched
The Coastal and Marine Operators (CAMO) group was one of the first organisations to use AIS in this manner. In partnership with Oceaneering International, Inc. (Oceaneering) and the Greater Lafourche Port Commission in Port Fourchon, Louisiana, CAMO launched a pipeline monitoring program in August 2015, using the Oceaneering PortVision AIS-based vessel-monitoring service to both monitor and automatically alert vessel operators that might be slowing, stopping or anchoring inside pipeline corridors charted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that pass under the port’s main navigable channel. 

Numerous oil companies have built on CAMO’s success in monitoring AIS data both for process improvement and asset protection. They start by evaluating their asset’s location and expected vessel traffic so they can determine if, in addition to an AIS receiver and/or radar, there is value in deploying an AIS ATON and whether it is feasible to do so. Deploying an AIS ATON ensures that the asset’s location is broadcast to surrounding vessels and that safety messages can be transmitted to vessels within range. Pipeline companies have proactively investigated threats based on triggered alerts to their pipeline monitoring team that have resulted in multiple positive communications with vessels detected near their pipelines that might otherwise have resulted in a marine casualty. 

Completing the Picture
By combining radar and other data sources, a more complete picture of vessels moving around marine infrastructure is developed. This has been done on offshore oil platforms that already have radar systems. The radar data ensures that even vessels that are not transmitting AIS signals can be monitored to determine if they appear to pose a threat to any marine infrastructure. 

Pipeline operators are learning new ways to improve the use of AIS data for asset protection. Many report that they have uncovered high-risk pipeline segments previously believed to have minimal or no traffic passing over them, and are now creating risk matrices based on their pipelines’ depth of cover, traffic volumes, and the type and draft of the passing vessels, across up to five years of historical tracking data. Better understanding risk improves how maintenance funds are allocated to cover where outreach campaigns should be focused.

Many operators are also moving to centralise the processing and management of AIS and other remote data sensors at a single location where a “virtual watch team” can evaluate threats for multiple remote assets or large areas of subsea infrastructure, anywhere in the world. This ensures that all assets and infrastructure can be monitored and assessed consistently with the same process and tools by professionals who are experienced with vessel operations. Some operators also choose to outsource monitoring rather than to invest in the infrastructure and staff.

Much is at stake for operators of any remote asset in the maritime environment who cannot accurately assess imminent threats to their infrastructure, or initiate any proven or reliable means to preempt them. AIS-based tools and remote sensors offer 

the most effective strategy to combat these threats, giving operators what they need to effectively monitor the safety of their assets and to help preserve the integrity of the surrounding environment.