Safe and smoothly running maritime transport requires a shared digital situational awareness

Rami Metsäpelto,
Fintraffic VTS,

Shipping is undergoing a major change where megatrends, particularly those related to climate change and digitalisation, are becoming intertwined and fuelling developments in the sector. Finland’s shipping and the entire surrounding logistics system are now facing the substantial challenge of finding more comprehensive and more effective solutions for finding a balance between sustainable development on the one hand and financial viability and competitiveness on the other. One avenue being explored for answers is digitalisation and the creating of a shared situational awareness. The volume of data in this area is expected to escalate sharply in the near future.

Through international collaboration and constant advancements in digitalisation and automation, our sector is making significant progress in attaining environmental goals and also in making maritime transport safer and smoother. 

International collaboration towards shared goals

​​​​​The Baltic Sea is one of the busiest sea areas in the world, with an average of 2,000 commercial vessels either en route or in port at any given time. Maritime traffic in the Baltic Sea requires increasingly close cooperation in order to run smoothly. Indeed, international collaboration around the Baltic Sea is crucial for ensuring safer and smoother passage for shipping. Close international collaboration leveraging high-quality, innovative maritime expertise can enhance the competitiveness of the sector and contribute to smoother, safer and more environmentally friendly shipping.

Finland is actively involved in developing digitalisation and automation in the shipping industry through the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and several EU forums, which aim to boost the competitiveness of shipping through various technological solutions. Risks in shipping have been systematically reduced through regional cooperation, international action being an efficient means of supervising safety at sea. A case in point is the mandatory ship reporting system in the Gulf of Finland (GOFREP) jointly set up by Finland, Estonia and Russia.

Shipping automation requires enhanced information exchange

New technological solutions for shipping, such as functions for the remote control of vessels and testing of autonomous ships, are examples of the opportunities that emerging technologies bring for securing the competitiveness of the maritime industry. New types of information exchange and information needs, which maritime machine learning and, ultimately, artificial intelligence will need to function, also call for new common practices for the flow and transmission of information.

Fintraffic VTS is responsible for facilitating navigation in Finland’s coastal waters. This involves the efficient use of automation, digitalisation and data. The role of Fintraffic VTS as a national provider of vessel traffic services and situational awareness at sea, and in ensuring the safety of shipping, has come to include the providing of digital information services.

Fintraffic VTS has started to build a new digital situational awareness and information exchange service for maritime traffic with the eVäylä development project. The purpose of eVäylä is to develop a more comprehensive situational awareness to meet the needs of maritime transport arising from increased automation. The project objective is to enable effective, real-time flow of data between vessels, ports and port operators in order to improve the safety, flow and efficiency of maritime traffic in the coming years, as well as creating a link between maritime transport and other modes of transport.

eVäylä is one of the major digitalisation projects that will ensure efficient and secure electronic exchange of information between the various maritime transport operators. Real-time confirmed situational awareness at sea and information from sensors support operators of remote control and automation, and the distribution service for the arrival and departure times of vessels supports port operators. Essentially, the reform concerns information exchange among port operators as a whole, the aim being to create a platform for the digital management of evolving vessel traffic while creating the required information exchange interfaces between the Vessel Traffic Service and shore-based pilotage.

Digitalisation and various degrees of automation are strongly making their way into maritime traffic in Finland. Increased vessel automation will require increasingly comprehensive capabilities for monitoring the environment. Keeping shipping safe and smooth requires continuous exchange of information and consistent situational awareness. Ultimately, the aim of all this is to help the Baltic Sea retain its status as one of the most competitive regions in the world where transport is safe and smooth.

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