Fleets and shipping lanes safe thanks to the availability of electronic charts

By Marek Grzybowski

If electronic marine charts (ENC) become widely available, they will play an extremely important role in ensuring ship safety. Reliable electronic maps are essential in times when we are increasingly faced with GPS signal disruptions, cyberattacks, shutdowns of ship identification systems and hacks into the IT networks of fleets, forwarders, logistics operators and ports.

NAVTOR’s Paul Elgar is calling on national hydrographic offices and other industry stakeholders to urgently help “close the gap” in the availability of marine electronic charts (ENC) and the dissemination of land-based information. In his opinion, hydrographic offices should help navigation in the process of providing data for electronic maps.

ENC is reaching the shore, slowly but surely – notes Paul Elgar from NAVTOR and argues that companies operating on land need access to the same maps as ship crews. In his opinion, this is supposed to enable safe and sustainable development of the industry. Only a few hydrographic offices have not joined the initiative, which means that we have to charge the full access fee to ENC, explains Elgar.

If we can convince Japan, China, South Korea and India that their ENC really should be used in areas other than just ship navigation, we will have completed the last piece of the puzzle. To quote Aristotle: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” Elgar emphasizes emphatically.

Maps globally available

This view is shared by more and more hydrographic offices and RENCs (Regional ENC Coordination Centers). However, not everyone is yet convinced of such a wide dissemination of electronic maps. The Norwegian company dealing with this technology claims that without a common, global approach to this issue, we will not achieve the expected progress in many areas. These include technologies such as autonomous shipping, planning of delivery routes, optimization of goods transport and effective actions in the event of a need to respond to crisis situations. In the context of the war in Ukraine, it should be added that accurate electronic maps supported by AI can ensure both optimal supplies of people, weapons and ammunition and plan the best routes for the evacuation of troops and civilians.

The wide-scale implementation of the ENC also applies to countries at risk of armed conflicts, terrorist attacks, illegal border crossings or undesirable proximity to installations and facilities of strategic importance, including terminals and seaports. NAVTOR’s Paul Elgar describes the current situation as “simply not good enough in an era of smarter shipping, efficiency and key sustainability goals.” He explains that “Currently, traditional pricing structures and usage restrictions mean that hydrographic offices make no distinction between vessel operators and hydrographic offices.”

Maps on every ship and in the operator’s office
Charts should be available at every ship operator’s office. – So, if you are a forward-thinking shipowner looking to streamline your operations, you should enable your shore-based employees to have access to the same maps used by your shipping fleets, Elgar emphasizes. If you don’t do this, “you have to take into account the additional expense of hundreds of thousands of dollars for global data,” argues Elgar. He states that it is “madness these days” for shipping companies to resort to publicly available maps. In some cases, applications such as Google Maps are even used to monitor ships, plan and even coordinate rescue operations.
Of course, this is not an optimal solution, he emphasizes and points out that “To obtain the best results – regardless of whether we are talking about fleet planning and efficiency, safety, the dissemination of new digital technologies (such as artificial intelligence), or compliance with regulations – shipping companies they must have constant access to the same maps as the crews.” This must be done because “more and more tasks [operational – Ministry of Economy] are transferred from ships to offices, this problem is only getting worse. We need to take positive action.”

Hydrographic offices half open
Elgar says the NAVTOR awareness campaign has made a difference, but there is still work to be done. Recalls that NAVTOR has been cooperating with hydrographic offices and regional ENC coordination centers (RENC) for the last two years. The idea is to convince key parties of the need for a new approach. RENC IC-ENC – “International Center for Electronic Navigational Charts” is the partner that supported the initiative to popularize electronic charts. 50 hydrographic offices associated with IC-ENC are open to the project. As a result, ENCs are now offered to IC-ENC resellers for just 10% of the standard price. However, Elgar notes that conversations with RENC management have been “variable”, although he believes that their approach to sharing ENC will soon “change for the better”.
To provide their teams with global reach, shipping companies need universal access to maps. This means that [hydrographic – Ministry of Economy] offices that have not joined this initiative – such as Japan, South Korea, India and China – must recognize the situation and adapt to the expected changes, says Elgar, noting: “I hope that they will see the benefits and make the right decision to serve the industry, and soon!”
When proposing a new approach to navigation, ship traffic optimization and navigation safety, NAVTOR draws on its experience. He developed the e-Navigation solution and intelligent navigation systems that are used by navigators over 18,000 times. ships of the world’s merchant fleet. Recently, the company released its new ENC Online solution. This service provides access to ENC worldwide. This IT system can be used by ship managers based on Internet connections. The proposed solution allows for the integration of ENC directly with appropriate applications where marine charts can be used in intelligent ship management systems.

The first mile on the electronic map
This is the first step on a longer journey, Elgar sums up. “The next one is coming later this year with ENC Onshore. It will enable land systems not connected to the Internet to use the latest digital maps. This will enable entire organizations, both on ships and on land, to work with the latest ENC.
However, there is an important condition that the company’s representative clearly draws attention to. – However, to truly unleash the full potential of this integrated way of managing fleets, modern owners and operators need the support of other hydrographic offices and RENC – emphasizes Paul Elgar. Hydrographic office managers must be convinced that public land-based ENCs are not a luxury item, but are necessary for the development of smart shipping. In his opinion: “Greater use [of public ENMs – MG] will also increase the revenues of hydrographic offices, so it really is a benefit for both parties.”
Following its merger with Voyager Worldwide in 2023, NAVTOR has become the leading global distributor of ENC and related products. The company is currently a market leader in fleet operational performance monitoring, traffic management and cruise optimization, digital logbooks and a range of intelligent maritime transport solutions.
And here it must be emphasized that the use of electronic systems on ships and the optimization of cruises also provide specific benefits for customers, increasing safety on sea routes, crossings in shipping channels, roadsteads and in ports. Finally, it means greater safety for crews and cargo. In the era of GPS outages and cyber attacks, it is important that the systems offered are also resistant to these types of threats.