Maersk Line Ltd. will outfit four G-class Panamax container ships, similar to the M/V Maersk Georgia shown here
approaching the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge between Brooklyn and Staten Island, N.Y., with Lockheed Martin “black
boxes,” designed to gather maritime traffic data during transit to provide “presence by proxy.”
recourse, he said, is that the level of culpability is higher if a vessel is in a collision, and its AIS is off.
Carmel said Maersk once did an experiment off the U.S.
West Coast to see how many ships were actually broadcasting AIS data, and found that “hundreds” were not.
“If all you’re doing is collecting AIS data, you miss
that group of folks altogether,” he said. “So if you’ve got
a P- 3 flying around collecting AIS data, he’s not even
going to catch the guys who have it turned off, plus it’s
easy to spoof.”
The idea, Carmel said, is not to have a chart of every
ship on the ocean, but rather something that helps
identify the anomalies like, for example, if the radar
contact does not match up to the AIS or there is a radar
contact with no AIS. AIS broadcasts a ship’s unique ref-erenceable identification, rate of turn, speed over
ground, heading, etc., but just because a ship’s AIS says
it is doing one thing, actual radar contact can definitively show what the ship is doing.
“You could look for things like a ship in the middle
of the Pacific and a ship in the middle of the Atlantic
broadcasting identical AIS identities,” said Carmel.
“Clearly, one of them has been hijacked.”
Carmel said that in those types of situations, the
merchant fleet, equipped with something akin to
Lockheed’s black box or some other data-collection
device, could help the navies of the world see.
“The data could be used by authorities to determine
whether they might need to board a suspicious ship,”
Carmel said. “We don’t claim that we can provide the
whole answer, but we can provide the maritime equivalent to human intelligence.”
As an example of an area from which Maersk could
provide information, Carmel cited Africa, saying the
company services about 40 ports there.
“Africa’s obviously a big point of interest nowadays,” he said.
Of course, most of the Maersk ships working African trade routes would not be flying U.S. flags, so a
system like those being studied would need the participation of more than just U.S. companies and need to
be accessible to more than the U.S. Navy.
Carmel said that under the United States’ 2-year-old
1,000-ship navy concept, a database could be compiled
by merchant vessels equipped with data collecting and
transmitting technology that would be accessible to
any authorized government because it’s open source,
“It doesn’t become classified until it enters into the
broader intelligence picture and gets used to develop
estimates and things like that,” he said. “Folks have
been collecting and selling AIS data for a long time.”
Carmel said that if sea-faring countries felt collecting this kind of data was important for the security of
the seas, perhaps the IMO could require it, much like
“We’re not asking guys to grab cameras and go
sneaking around the waterfronts,” he said. ■