The Virtual Regional Maritime Traffic Center (V-RMTC)

The Virtual Regional Maritime Traffic Center (V-RMTC)

Una storia italiana di successo – An Italian success story

Virtual - Maritime Traffic Center (V-RMTC)The »Imperium Romanum« spread over nearly 6 million square kilometers of land; however, the trade was to a main extent done from the Mediterranean harbors with routes to Africa, into the Black Sea and over the North Atlantic into the Baltic. Key for control over such a large area was the ancient Roman information system. Messengers by foot or on horses as well as the signaling between the watch towers delivered vital information about conditions in the distant provinces and enabled the leaders to base decisions upon a precise situational awareness. It might be a mere coincidence that today Rome again hosts an information system that could become of global importance for Maritime Security.

On the occasion of the 4th Regional Sea Power Symposium for the Navies of the Mediterranean and Black Sea Countries held in October 2002, all the delegates agreed to the requirement of enhancing the maritime traffic security in Mediterranean Sea safeguarding regional maritime activities. The Italian Navy promoted a project which allowed the adhering Navies to choose their own level of participation and the amount of national data exchanged. In June 2003 the initiative was favorably received by almost all the contacted Navies. Their added suggestions allowed in return the Italian Navy Staff, supported by Italian Fleet Headquarter (CINCNAV), the Italian Coast Guard Headquarter (MARICOGECAP) and the Italian Navy Main Communication Center (MARITELE ROMA), to set up the first step of the Project.

During the 5th Regional Sea Power Symposium, held in Venice in October 2004, the Italian Navy presented the “Pilot Project Virtual Regional Maritime Traffic Centre (V-RMTC)”, immediately resulting in a great success. Since the beginning of the project a highly qualified and remarkable participation by the Mediterranean and Black Sea Navies has been recorded. The system reached the Initial Operational Capability (IOC) on 20thSeptember 2006.

On the 12th October 2006 the “Operational Arrangement” (OA) was introduced by the Italian Navy as the legal framework for the V-RMTC. It was initially signed during the 6th Regional Sea Power Symposium by 17 Countries, most of which have been historically involved in the Mediterranean region: Italy, Portugal, Spain, France, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Malta, Jordan, Israel, Romania, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the USA. The content and amount of the provided data is independently chosen by each cooperating Navy, which is one of the remarkable parts of the V-RMTC concept. The system, employing Internet, commercial platform and software, proved at the same time to be money saving and easy to be managed.

With the establishment of the “V-RMTC Wider Mediterranean Community” (V-RMTC WMC) the project dropped the concept of involving countries with a classical interest in the Mediterranean as well as its geographical boundaries; Germany and Bulgaria joined in 2007. The WMC was established in order to distinguish different V-RMTC communities while still using the same software application and model. The navies of Belgium, Georgia, Netherland and Senegal signed the OA of the Wider Mediterranean Community on 16th October 2008 during the 7th edition of the Venice Regional Sea Power Symposium, bringing the count up to 23 participating Navy members.

Italy had launched another initiative of the “5+5 Maritime Security in the Western Mediterranean” (Rome, September 2005), comprising of five Navies of the WMC (Italy, France, Malta, Portugal and Spain) and five Navies from North Africa (Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia). This caused the creation of a separated roadmap completely independent from the Wider Mediterranean Community’s one. The challenges laid no longer on a mere system level as more in the diplomatic agreements, due to the politically created domains, which called eventually for different regional networks. The individual Areas of Interest (AOI) were created by hosting the information on separated systems using the same software application. During the third 5+5 Chief of Navies Meeting (Naples, 30th of May 2007) the signatures of the Operational Arrangement brought the Initial Operational Capability (IOC).

The Operation “LEONTE” (following the Israeli-Lebanese crisis) called for a bilateral Italian – Lebanese agreement. Still in the sub-regional context, the V-RMTC model allowed cooperation in a very delicate field, such as Recognized Maritime Merchant Picture for Lebanon (RMMP-L). The software application of the V-RMTC Model in this scenario supports the Maritime Task Force (Italian units) operating under UNIFIL mandate with solely bilateral information exchange for a Maritime Picture.

At this point the term Recognized Maritime Picture (RMP) could be misleading to the operational communities and has to be distinguished from the original definition used for example in NATO, where each and every contact is evaluated, categorized and classified. The available operational picture in the V-RMTC communities is to be understood more as a plain and unclassified Maritime Picture (MP) containing AIS-Data and unclassified information. None of the tracks can contain or indicate classified and evaluated data due to IT-Security at this point. V-RMTC provides currently only unclassified Chat-Rooms and Forums within the communities for message exchange. National classified information about a »Vessel Of Interest« (VOI) still will have to be shared on bilateral and secured message exchange system (e.g. Voice, E-Mail, Fax, Teletype). These national or coalition systems are not part of the V-RMTC, but this information exchange is essential for a truly Recognized National Maritime Picture which enhances the Maritime Security of the participation countries.

Nevertheless, the gained international credibility of the V-RMTC and its capabilities in- and outside the Mediterranean region called for Workshops in order to develop the Wider Mediterranean Community with other countries (such as India, Singapore, Ireland, Mexico and Brazil). They had sent their observers to assess the possibility to establish similar models in their own geographical areas. This interest brought a new dimension overcoming even the concept of the V-RMTC Wider Mediterranean Region. With the thought of a “Global Maritime Trusted Information Network”, V-RMTC offers now with the Trans-Regional Maritime Network (T-RMN) a concept with a global dimension.

Trans - Regional Maritime Network (T-RMN)17th December 2008, V-RMTC 8+6 Seminar with Deputy Chief of the Italian Navy General Staff in Rome, Vice Admiral Luigi Binelli Mantelli of the Italian Navy

A significant experimentation started in July 2008 with the Brazilian and Singapore Navies. Successful tests between the V-RMTC and the Brazilian system, called SISTRAM, were conducted and, due to the flexibility of the model, by the end of September 2008 also with the Navy of Singapore. Different from V-RMTC, the introduction of National Liaison Offices will enable Singapore and the participating Nations to exchange in the future, in addition to the unclassified data, also nationally classified information in case of a military crisis, safety hazard or environmental danger.

The political development in the Middle East however brought again a new and wider area of interest. The “8+6 Meeting”, held at Defense level in Manama on 10th December 2006, was followed by a formal invitation to an “8+6 Seminar” by the Italian Chief of Naval Staff (Admiral Paolo LA ROSA). The Seminar aimed at gathering representatives of the invited navies to discuss the Maritime Surveillance Dimension and to investigate the possibilities to make the “V-RMTC model” available to the 8+6 Community for possible adoption and implementation in 2009. The Italian Navy hosted the seminar in Rome on 17th/18th December 2008 to the benefit of six Gulf Cooperation Council members (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) and eight European countries (France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and UK) belonging to the V-RMTC Wider Mediterranean Community.

Based on V-RMTC Italy is currently developing the System for Inter-agency Integrated Maritime Security (SIIMS) with additional sensor data from satellite, radar, Vessel Traffic Systems and other sources, making the data and information exchange available to the Carabinieri, Coast Guard, State Police, Custom Police and Customs itself. The total amount of tracks in V-RMTC is listed a weekly, monthly and an annual report, send to the participating navies in the individual communities. Since the 2006 edition of the Venice Regional Sea Power Symposium, when the V-RMTC was rolled out for the Wider Mediterranean Community, the exchanged data volume per quarter increased by 700%, in July 2008 the monthly exchanged data volume exceeded a total of 150,000 contacts.

2nd December 2008, the delegates of the 4th V-RMTC Experts Reunion & Annual Meeting

The successful Italian story of V-RMTC will continue with the T-RMN and the 8+6 initiative. Providing all services, covering all cost of development and the technical support, the Italian Navy gained status and reputation by hosting the V-RMTC; so to speak with the T-RMN. To share information between Communication and Information Systems (CIS) is no challenge; this is what they are designed for. Challenges are:

  • A truly global community will have the need to be under the umbrella of an international organization. Solutions might be the involvement of the International Maritime Board (IMB) under the United Nations. After all Maritime Security is of vital and global interest.
  • Information sharing between countries requires first a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) at the diplomatic level. A connection between systems and the possibility to share the contained information is primarily depending on national regulations, secondary on the MOU. National Security regulations do not change according to diplomatic agreements. Collecting national information is the basis for national Maritime Security; exchanging this information in a multinational environment the basis for a global Maritime Security.

The technical principles of the Virtual Regional Maritime Traffic Centre (V-RMTC) and the coming T-RMN are internet based access to the data bases and formatted e-mail exchange for messages upon arrival, departure or movement of a vessel. Each Maritime Operation Center of the participating Navies connects individually to the Hub located in Rom/Italy. Because most Navies have close ties to the national civilian offices with responsibilities in White Shipping, the information sharing offers a quite wide approach and a huge amount of data. Data access is achieved over the »V-RMTC WMC WEB Site Portal v.2008« which offers the log-on and the follow-up sub webs with News, Documents, Forums, Chat, Off-Line Database, Computer-based Training (CBT) and Maps for displaying the maritime picture.

The time between the update of the contacts depends on the message delivery sequence of the providing navy; it can range therefore from minutes to several days to no update at all, where after a maximum of 90 days the track will be no longer stored in the database. This is why V-RMTC and a future T-RMN are therefore no networks with a real time maritime picture required for naval operations, but the shared White Shipping picture is an important additional source as for example peace-keeping and anti-piracy missions and the national RMP Management.

The network, depending on Internet’s capacities and connections, provides – on the first stage – unclassified information on merchant shipping consisting of 300 tons or more units using the mandatory Automated Identification System (AIS). Based on the ITU-R Recommendation M.1371-1 (Technical Characteristics for a Universal Ship borne Automatic Identification System Using Time Division Multiple Access in the Maritime Mobile Band) the AIS-Format contains less data and has a limited capability for military Command and Control Systems (CCIS) used in Maritime Situational Awareness. AIS is standardized in the International Electro-technical Commission 61161-1 Format (IEC 61161) which is equivalent to the National Marine Electronics Association 0183 Format (NMEA 0183, Recommended Minimum Sentence C, RMC), to be followed by NMEA 2000 (IEC 61161-2). The ITU-R M.1371-1 contains in addition a number of data sentences.

On the other hand the huge amount of the data collected from AIS-Base-Stations and feed into the V-RMTC raises the operational demands for the use and share of the tracks and calls for Concepts of Operation (CONOPS). The following information will be available as a minimum in V-RMTC / T-RMN:

  • Ship’s name
  • International Call Sign
  • Flag
  • IMO number
  • Arrivals: port of arrival and arrival’s date in ZULU time – port of origin with departure’s date in ZULU time or
  • Departures: port of origin with departure’s date in ZULU time – port of destination with the estimated ZULU time and date of arrival or
  • Position: in Latitude and Longitude (if underway or at anchor).

The data will be delivered to the V-RMTC via the application “MERSIT Client v.3.0” for departure, arrival or move of a »Vessel Of Interest« (VOI). Client application and the “Merchant Situation Report” (MerSit) are both developed and provided at no cost by the Italian Navy. The data is collected at Italian Fleet Headquarter (CINCNAV), making it available to all the participants. The “Converter AIS-2-MERSIT v.1.0” is an additional software tool also provided at no cost by the Italian Navy and is used to transform AIS data (IEC 61161/NMEA 0183) from different sources and formats into the MerSit-Report.

Access to V-RMTC communities and to MerSit-Clients is secured via registered user administration providing password, protected connections and data exchange at CINCNAV/Rome. Bringing more users and therefore more data and information into the V-RMTC creates a demand for a higher level of IT-Security. The second stage of the concept requires therefore some sort of business security level, due to the immense amount of unclassified information in the data bases and the need to share also sensible information in a message exchange. The term “sensible” is a necessary distinction from the term “classified”, which requires military encryption. As a consequence the Italian Navy introduced on the 16th February 2009 new features.

The technical developments are a new GIS (Geographical Information System) using Open Layers, a new function to allow users to display Latitude and Longitude Grids and a new Tracks management function. As experimental tool a new drop down menu allows users to manage Tracks and to track VOIs. For usability and security a Graphic Management using a DHTML-Suite, Multi-User-Chat- and PKI-encrypted E-Mail are the next improvements for V-RMTC/T-RMN. Dynamic HTML or DOM-scripts (DHTML) offers more functionality and is easier to use for operators. V-RMTC had so far only single-user-chat, Multi-User Chat (MUC) is a group chat, were multiple users can chat at the same time with each other about the same subject. Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) will bring digital certificates as part of Information Security.

The road is paved for a continuation of the »storia italiana di successo« of the Italian Fleet Headquarter (CINCNAV) in “Roman” Maritime Security.

© Joachim Beckh

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