Tuesday, September 10, 2019

British Programme to Protect Merchant Ships Using New Satellite Technology Goes Ahead

Pirates, Hijackers and People Smugglers to be Under the Eye in the Sky
Shipping News Feature

UK – Worldwide – A new Memorandum of Understanding has been agreed between Reading headquartered Horizon Technologies and the Harwell based Satellite Applications Catapult, with the National Maritime Information Centre (NMIC), to provide government end-users with crucial maritime information allowing law enforcement agencies to pinpoint and potentially intercept law breakers at sea. The concept is to form a security umbrella for container ships, tankers and indeed any merchant vessels potentially at risk of attack whilst at sea.

The data is garnered by the new IOD-3 AMBER satellite which forms part of the Satellite Applications Catapult’s In-Orbit Demonstration programme (IOD). The not-for-profit research company was formed in 2013 and funded by Innovate UK as one of a network of centres to accelerate the take-up of emerging technologies and drive economic impact for the UK. The IOD system gathers three different types of data, including information from satellite phones, to help track marine vessels.

At present, all ships are fitted with Automatic Identification Signals (AIS), which can be detected by satellites, but AIS can be disabled to avoid detection when undertaking activities such as illegal fishing, piracy, smuggling, and transhipments. This new satellite will reduce the dependency on AIS by using these other sources of data to provide location information.

The payload on board IOD-3 AMBER will be able to locate and track vessels worldwide by picking up their electronic emissions using an L-band Satphone detection sensor package derived from the existing FlyingFish™ system. This is combined with an AIS receiver and sensors to detect, geolocate, and classify X/S-band maritime radars, allowing correlation of these signals against the presence of AIS beacons. Stuart Martin, CEO of the Satellite Applications Catapult commented:

“The IOD-3 AMBER satellite exemplifies what can be achieved by a UK organisation with an innovative idea in a market with significant demand and commercial potential. The partnership with NMIC is a key step, as it secures an important customer for the data supplied by IOD-3, ensuring that Horizon Technologies has a bright future supplying data to governments around the world, all from their base in the UK.”

Horizon Technologies already has a proven track record of working with national governments, international and regional organizations, and private industry. The company says this partnership with NMIC will cement Horizon Technologies’ position as a leading supplier of maritime intelligence from satellites, with CEO John Beckner, saying:

“We are delighted to have signed this agreement with NMIC to supply our new data set to the UK government. Around the world, governments and law enforcement agencies are dealing with a dramatic increase in crime at sea, and our service will give the UK a new and powerful source of information to detect and take action against this type of illegal activity.”

The IOD-3 AMBER satellite will work together with Horizon Technologies’ Amber Ground Exploitation Station (GES) to be co-located with NMIC in Portsmouth. The development of the GES was funded by Innovate UK in 2018 to provide end-to-end data services linked to illegal maritime activity to customers worldwide, and the GES will be operational by the time IOD-3 AMBER is launched.

The satellite bus will be supplied by Glasgow group AAC Clyde Space and will be deployed into orbit from the International Space Station by launch provider Nanoracks. Phil Ponsford from NMIC explained the range of services the system can provide thus:

“The new data that will be provided by IOD-3 AMBER will revolutionise the way we use information from satellites to tackle the full range of maritime security threats to the UK. It has the potential to assist UK agencies in preventing a wide range of illegal activities including smuggling and people trafficking, and I’m sure it will fill a vital information gap in our maritime collection requirement as it comes online.”