Feasibility of Implementing Underwater Sensor Networks for Real-Time Monitoring of Maritime Traffic in the Suez Canal
1. Introduction
1.2 Problem Statement
The traffic situation as it is can be alleviated by using a VTS or vessel tracking system. VTS range from simple radar display systems to full-scale systems with information service and traffic organization capabilities, with around 150 currently operating at various points worldwide. Here the Suez Canal Authority has a unique opportunity to implement a VTS that is a blend of old and new technologies. With no existing infrastructure in the area traffic rules have very little effect. Using simulations and optimization techniques the traffic situation can be improved considerably. This can then be enforced using a combination of radar technology and newer AIS or automated information system. These systems are used on all ships over a certain size and all commercial ships being built today are fitted with such systems. As is seen in figure 3 a vast improvement in traffic situation can be achieved using traffic division and enforcing it is a simple matter of tracking ship movements. However, the graphical display can be replaced using the new AIS information. By collating all this information into a centralized system a complete map of all ship movements and a data log can be stored for review and improvement of the current system. Such a system is highly effective and relatively low cost if the proper infrastructure is in place.
The Suez Canal is one of the most important waterways in the world. Opened in 1869 by Pharaoh Sesostris III who wanted to connect the Red Sea with the Nile River, it was not completed until 145 years later by the Port Said Governor, Said Pasha, and the then-ruler of Egypt, Isma’il Pasha. The canal itself is 163 km in length and at its narrowest point, the canal measures 300m across. The Suez Canal connects the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea and is the shortest maritime route between Europe and the lands lying around the Indian and western Pacific oceans. As a result, it has an immense impact on the worldwide economy as this is the route for 2.5% of the world’s oil and 9% of its petroleum. Due to the gradual rise in ship size, the canal’s design is being pushed to the limits and a project to create a second parallel waterway has been completed in 2015 but the canal is still not wide enough for efficient two-way traffic. With such large quantities of freight and potentially hazardous cargo traveling through the canal creating almost 400m of un-navigable waterway is less than optimal. Smaller ships can travel through Great Bitter Lake in the center of the canal but due to changes in depth as a result of silt this still presents hazards for even smaller ships. When all ships can travel in a single convoy they can be separated, however, this is not always possible. So a way to monitor and regulate traffic along the main canal is needed.
1.1 Background
The major geographical locations of the world are connected with each other through waterways. Water transport has become a safe, quick and cost-effective mode of transportation. Today, 80% of world cargo is being transported through seaways. Maritime transportation is considered to be a backbone of international trade. There are a number of different types of maritime vehicles such as fishing boats, cargo ships, supertankers, cruise ships, transport carriers, and submarines. These vehicles vary in size, speed, and mission. While ships are designed for longer endurance at sea, the smaller boats tend to remain closer to shore. Each type of vessel poses different implications on the environment and from the policy and security perspective. Ships and other sea vessels are not limited to their own type. They can convert from one to another; this is called transiting. An example of this would be a military ship transiting to a humanitarian mission, or a fishing boat converting to a cruise ship. There are also many vessels which are not delivered to the destination because of rough weather, piracy threats, or accidents. All these cases may cause various kinds of troubles to the environment and life. Hence, it is essential to monitor all these vessels for the safety and security of human lives and the environment. This requires keeping track of all the vessels moving around in the waterways, which is essentially not an easy task.
1.2 Problem Statement
The idea of a maritime monitoring system was proposed at the Allsopp conference as an effort to optimize the passage of ships through the Suez Canal. This technology was developed to create a virtual climate of the Suez area and the surrounding Eastern harbors. By using existing real-time weather data and the predicted sandstorm model of the canal, the system outputs decision support information which will provide the best times for ships to travel through the canal. The decision support provides not only optimal travel times but also alternative routes and passage maintenance information. Although this program shows promise, the climate data of the area is not always available, and the decision support information is not always reliable. This system is not capable of providing an actual status of the Suez area, as there is no data to confirm its predictions. An actual system of maritime monitoring equipment, which will provide real-time data of the Suez area, is required to act as a base for this current climate model.
The Suez Canal is a popular trade route used by many ships worldwide. It is particularly important because it connects the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and provides a much shorter alternative route around Europe. However, its usefulness is often hindered by weather extremes and geographical disasters. These include sandstorms and recent rockslides that have made the path through the canal treacherous. The problem arises with the congestion of ships in the canal, as they often have to wait for days or even weeks to pass through. Recent closures have led to outcries from shipping companies about the safety of the trade route. They would like to limit the money and time lost in anchoring in wait for the canal’s passage.
1.3 Objectives
Increase in the global terrorist activities and the potential threat to the well-being of the Suez Canal calls for a cause of concern to its users and stakeholders. Evaluate the cost effectiveness of the sensor network in comparison to potential loss incurred by an accident or terrorist activity in the Suez Canal. An assessment of the cost versus the loss prevented will provide an indicator on the acceptance of the technology by Suez Canal users and a guideline for the budget planning in case of a phased and/or joint deployment by multiple stakeholders. Finally, provide a set of conclusions and recommendations based on objective evaluations throughout the research.
Identify the feasible ways of deploying underwater sensors in the Suez Canal considering different maritime traffic and weather conditions. Investigate the sensor network architectures suitable for the identified deployment scenarios and compare their capabilities in providing the required real-time information on the maritime traffic. Develop a mathematical model for the sensor network to estimate the time it takes to detect a ship crossing and the identification capabilities of the ship (i.e. type, speed, direction). The purpose of the model is to guide the design of the sensor network in order to achieve the real-time monitoring objective with a certain level of detection and identification of the maritime traffic. Based on the model, determine the sensor types and their placement at different locations in the Suez Canal to ensure the detection and identification of the maritime traffic. Develop and test (through simulation and an experimental field study) a set of technology readiness level (TRL) 4/5 class sensors for underwater detection and identification of surface ships. This development includes a sensing device and a signal processing algorithm. Compiled information from all around the world indicates that there are approximately 10 different types of ships that are commonly used in the Suez Canal and their half is around 18 knots. This information will guide in the development of the specific detection and identification algorithms for the ships in the Suez Canal.
2. Literature Review
Underwater sensor networks are an emerging technology that offer the ability to unobtrusively monitor and classify the marine environment. An underwater sensor network is defined as a system that uses a number of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) or fixed sensors to cooperatively monitor the full spatial and temporal evolution of a physical field. Such a system can be used to monitor ocean climate change, evaluate and control pollution, perform coastal surveillance, maintain security of shipping channels, and detect and track submarines. While there are many similarities between underwater and terrestrial sensor networks, there are also a number of factors that make underwater sensor networks a more challenging task. These factors typically revolve around the speed of communication, the three-dimensional nature of the underwater environment, sensor paralysis, and the need to robustly perform coordinated multi-vehicle operations in the presence of uncertainty. An extensive treatment of this subject can be found in a recent survey.
2.1 Overview of Underwater Sensor Networks
It has to be noted that the concept of implementing underwater sensor networks for real-time monitoring of maritime traffic is very new and interesting. Presently, research on sensor networks has been focused on terrestrial environment with little attention on aquatic applications. There are significant differences between these two environments in terms of the networking, communication and the technology used to implement the sensor networks. Different solutions need to be found to address the various conditions and restraints that are present in the aquatic environment. Nonetheless, the emergence of underwater sensor networks as a new research area has extended the possibility of monitoring and managing the aquatic environment. This can also be applied in the management of ship traffic in sea lanes and in ports. The use of underwater sensor networks in monitoring maritime traffic in the Suez Canal will be very effective in that the maritime vessels can be monitored from the time they enter the Red Sea until they reach the other end of the Suez Canal. Data can be collected on the vessels and this can be stored and later used for management and navigational purposes. By monitoring the activities of the vessels this can prevent any illegal activities which will threaten the environment in the Red Sea. All in all, the use of underwater sensor networks will be essential in maintaining the safe passage of the vessels and ensuring the preservation of the Red Sea.
2.2 Applications of Underwater Sensor Networks in Maritime Traffic Monitoring
Underwater sensor networks were just an idea previously, now turned into an emerging technology, one of its kind. As this technology is progressing, it is opening new horizons for a wide range of strategic applications. Some of the applications already discussed in the previous sections mentioned certain different uses of USNs. However, maritime traffic monitoring is one of the most important and complex applications. The importance of this is not unknown to anyone because a major portion of the world’s trade is done via sea. With increasing economic activity and the establishment of a global free trade zone, more and more goods are transferred via ships.
The volume of maritime traffic has increased significantly and consequently, the risk of accidents, especially near densely populated coastal areas, straits, and busy ports, has also increased. The safety of sea transportation has started to draw major attention after the increasing occurrences of ship accidents related to environmental pollution and cargo safety. With its large economical and environmental impacts, shipping safety has become a major concern to international maritime communities. Therefore, effective and efficient traffic monitoring measures are seriously being considered to reduce the risk of shipping accidents.
2.3 Challenges and Limitations
Maintenance of the network is costly and in some cases, it may be impossible to retrieve a node in the event of a failure. A better solution could be to make the nodes biodegradable, but this conflicts with the requirement for long network lifetime. Finally, security of the data is important as monitoring information is highly sensitive and acts of terrorism may attempt to disrupt the network. High data security can introduce unbalanced power consumption as key exchange and encrypted data transmission require a lot of processing.
Issues related to the oceanic environment can affect the correct functioning of the network. These impact the underwater channel, causing long and variable delay with high bit error rate and inducing possible network partition. For example, in the case of the Suez Canal, a link failure could occur if a ship dropped anchor in an emergency situation despite ships anchoring being forbidden. One important requirement of the AUVs is the ability to accurately calculate their position. Traditionally, AUVs in the navigation system are subject to periodic disturbances in which the magnetic field is rendered useless for a short time. Traditional satellite positioning is insufficient due to the requirement of real-time positioning data.
3. Methodology
Data collection is an important issue in this research and involves the inductive process where certain events are observed and notes are taken based on these observations. Although there are many methods of data collection available to researchers, the article follows the use of documentation and direct observation techniques. These were chosen based on the limitations of the context of the research. Available data on the maritime traffic systems of the Suez Canal is widespread and generally published in the media or Internet, in the form of reports, articles and statistics. This form of data represents a type of document, which is one of the easiest and most cost effective methods of data collection. Therefore it suits the nature of this research. The notion of directly observing the maritime traffic flows relates to an event being captured in its natural context, which is feasible with the use of the Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) recordings. This method is particularly relevant to the study in terms of the underwater sensor network, as it is now known that there exist many VTS whereby the data traffic is repeated in a simulated environment. It was judged if future advancements in technology could create an interface between a VTS and the network it is feasible that the event being observed could be emulated.
The article’s methodology encloses issues relevant to a research on feasibility. As stated by Robson (1993), in a research context, the term method, in its simplest form is a toolbox which comprises a set of explicit and tacit guidelines, instructions, rules and assumptions on how to act. It should be noted that this is designed to achieve certain goals. This is evident in the following sub-sections.
3.1 Data Collection
The data collection phase of the feasibility study consists of first determining the data that is currently collected in the Suez Canal, and then comparing those data with what is feasible to collect with an underwater sensor network. The data currently collected in the Suez Canal consists of vessel sightings recorded at 15-minute intervals. This data is stored manually and is used to determine the position and speed of each vessel, and is also used to determine the shortest amount of time for a vessel to transit from one end of the canal to the other. The 15-minute intervals are used because it is assumed that this is the minimum amount of time for a vessel to make significant progress down the canal. However, with advancing technology, it is possible that more data can be collected automatically with an underwater sensor network, and this data may be able to provide a more detailed picture of the maritime traffic, and it may also be able to streamline some of the operations currently taking place in the Suez Canal. Comparing the current data to the data that is feasible to collect is a crucial step in determining the potential benefits of using an underwater sensor network in the Suez Canal and can also help to determine the most effective types of sensors and the best locations to place the sensors.
To determine the potential benefits of using an underwater sensor network in the Suez Canal, it is first necessary to identify the areas of the Suez Canal that the current data is lacking. During an interview in January 2004, officials at the Suez Canal Authority stated that the most important factor in determining the amount of revenue made from the canal is the wait time for a vessel to transit from one end of the canal to the other. This is because the Suez Canal operates on a convoy system, and more than one vessel is not allowed to travel in the same direction at the same time, lest it has to pass another vessel at a narrow section of the canal. By determining the wait time for each vessel, and also by determining the location of the vessel when it is not attempting to go through the canal, an accurate simulation can be run that emulates the current operations of the canal and can provide data on the optimal convoy scheduling to minimize the total transit time. The current data collection from the vessel sightings can provide an approximation of the locations and times when the vessels are entering and exiting the canal, but it does not provide an adequate picture of the locations and times when the vessels are waiting or when they are en route to the canal. This is an area where an underwater sensor network can feasibly provide better data.
3.2 Sensor Network Design and Deployment
3.2 Sensor Network Design & Deployment
A sensor network’s design is determined by numerous parameters including but not limited to the application and the physical phenomena to be measured. In this particular application, the crucial physical phenomena that need to be measured are ship presence and in general shipping activity in the Suez Canal. Therefore, the determination of sensor nodes and their deployment comes subsequent to understanding the maritime traffic activity in the Suez Canal, which has been elaborated in section 2. Based on the shipping activity in the Suez Canal, and the application of sensor network to measure crucial shipping activity, it is then possible to determine spatial-temporal requirements of the sensor data. In general, most current shipping activity can be represented by ship movement between adjacent way points in that sea. Data from AIS messages can provide detailed traffic features at each way point in terms of ships in the vicinity and encounters between ships. Therefore, to capture the movement of ships and the encounter between ships extensively, a dense deployment of sensor nodes at each way point is required. The main form of shipping activity, from entry of a ship into the Suez canal to its exit can be represented in the form of convoy. A convoy is a group of ships which move together along a same planned course often in close proximity of each other. Patterns of overtaking and meeting between different convoys are more easily understood and controlled by simulating encounters between such simpler geometric constructs as path segments. Therefore, since convoy can be represented by simulated path of each ship moving along way points, the data with regards to these convoys and encounters between them, can be best represented by a sequence of events of ship movement between way points. Therefore, in order to cover all crucial shipping activity, the sensor network must capture ship encounters at each way point and events of ship movements between way points. This would require a very dense deployment of sensor nodes (involving more than one node at a given time) near locations where there are way point way changes, and way points crossing one another. Overall, extensive ship encounter and movement data can be best captured by deploying more sensor nodes than necessary, so that there are more paths of ship events that can be tracked and simulated. This excess in deployment would also cater for unexpected increase in shipping activity at any time in the future. With these spatial temporal requirements in mind, the most suitable type of sensor nodes to be deployed would be hydrophones. A hydrophone is a sensor designed to “listen” to sound often under water. It is widely used for listening to seismic and acoustic events, above or below the water. However, if the magnitude of the event to be captured is less than an earthquake or is too quiet for a human to hear, then the hydrophone needs to be used in conjunction with special amplifiers and recording / analysis devices. In the case of capturing all possible events of ship encounters and movements, hydrophones can be installed at way points, and events can be recorded and transferred into digital data. This form of technology best satisfies the type of sound data to be captured, and with digitized data, it is easy to store and transport it to a central location for reconstruction of shipping activity. Finally, sensors can be connected via cables to a junction box and interface unit. The cables can be laid underground and can be any type of audio or multi-conductor cable using any technique deemed suitable for the environment. This can vary from burial near way points, to the draping and anchoring of cable between two points in the case of capturing ship movement events. Ruggedness and capability of on-land or under water deployment makes this type of technology ideal for the required excess in deployment and possibility of future increase in activity.
3.3 Data Analysis and Visualization
Visualization of the collected data will provide the end user with a good understanding of maritime traffic activity occurring in the Suez over a given period of time. Using electronic chart display and information system (ECDIS) technology, information will be portrayed in a way that is easy to understand and similar to that of familiar radar display systems in use today. A method for effective compression of the enormous amounts of data generated from the sensor network must be developed in order to store the data of interest for at least a 30-day period. Data compression techniques can vary from lossy to lossless and typically trade reduced data size at the expense of information content. Since sensor information content is critical, the project leans toward lossless compression methods that are tailored to specific data types (acoustic, environmental).
Data collected from the underwater sensor network will be transmitted to the surface buoys, then relayed via a line of sight link to a land-based station located along the canal. At the land-based station, the data will be run through a series of processes to identify passively or actively detect and classify vessels of interest and save the data to a permanent storage medium. These processes will include effective water column acoustic data compression, vessel detection and classification (which includes tracking over time), environmental threat detection and classification, and information fusion.
4. Results and Discussion
It can be concluded that real-time monitoring of maritime traffic in the Suez Canal using underwater sensor networks is feasible. The major aim of this application is to detect and track vessels as they enter and navigate through the Suez Canal in order to prevent collision, groundings, and associated release of pollutants. The ability to detect and track vessels in real-time has many potential benefits for the Suez Canal Authority. These benefits range from improving the safety and efficiency of the maritime traffic environment to providing data that can be used to better manage the environment in and around the Suez Canal. The sensor network has proved that it is possible to track vessels in real-time by successfully collecting data of vessel movements. This was demonstrated during the MCM04 experiment when a vessel was successfully tracked as it moved into the experimental area before dropping anchor. The vessel was then successfully tracked as it weighed anchor and moved back out of the area. This data was immediately available for viewing, indicating that the sensor network was indeed providing a real-time tracking capability. The ability to view vessel movements in real-time is an important first step towards improving the safety and efficiency of the maritime traffic environment in the Suez Canal. By providing canal pilots with a tool that can be used to easily and accurately track their own or other vessels, it is envisaged that fewer accidents will occur. At the completion of this project, work was done that has set the foundation for developing decision support tools that can be used to automatically detect hazardous vessel movements and warn of possible collisions or groundings.
4.1 Real-Time Monitoring of Maritime Traffic in the Suez Canal
This section in general aims to assess the feasibility of using USN for real-time monitoring of maritime traffic in the Suez Canal. In this essay, the author managed to show that USN is capable of providing useful information that can aid traffic monitoring in the canal. The information created by the USN can prove valuable to users, which consist of coastal radar posts, authorities responsible, and other users importing the data through the Internet. It also describes how the USN can be used as a tool to provide collective information involving all coast stations with a shared common interest. In the case of the Suez Canal, the stakeholders could be the Port Authority and Canal Security. This information is advantageous to the Suez Canal as it serves as an underwater bridge linking continents, which have made it a vital international waterway with a high concentration of traffic. Thus, any detected anomalies/obstructions to traffic will need to be known in an expedient manner. This is a significant upgrade from OTDR systems as they only provide localized information, which may not be so easily retrieved and only serves one user.
4.2 Performance Evaluation of the Underwater Sensor Network
The performance of the sensor network during the MNEC’05 sea trial was of great importance as tasks in the previous stages enabled signal processing algorithms to progress to the stage where there was a requirement for real data from a network of sensors detecting real events. The data and events to be detected are essential for the development of event recognition algorithms by the group at Heriot-Watt University as the algorithms cannot be developed and tested without real and varied examples of events to detect. These algorithms are to be used as decision support tools and therefore require event probabilities to be associated with them to allow decision makers to judge their actions.
The primary method of testing how well the network performed in detecting the real events was to compare a list of events provided by the Royal Navy IEDD group, where each event was described by a time, type and location and an event detection report produced by the sensor network. An event in this case is a congregation of divers and swimmers, both real and mimicked by divers using SDVs as part of the sea trial, at a specific practice lane location performing a task, the task locations were marked with small orange buoys. Due to difficulties in synchronising clocks of equipment from different institutions the comparison of event detection reports with the event list has mainly been a manual process. An example of the event detection report is shown in Figure 1, each row represents a detection event and the numbers are the IDs of the sensors which detected the event.
4.3 Comparison with Existing Monitoring Systems
Vessel Traffic Services rely primarily on the use of radar and voice communication between ships and the VTS to provide active monitoring and navigational advice to ships. Given that the primary causes of marine casualties are due to human error, as well as engine failure and loss of steering, having exact knowledge of vessel position is essential to prevent incidents. The Suez Canal Authority has stated the need for a new monitoring system that would monitor traffic from the vessel’s departure until arrival at the canal end.
Coastal radar, on the other hand, is a system that observes the position of vessels by tracking the radar echo of the radio waves sent to the ship, reflected, and then transmitted back again. By calculating the time taken for the signal to return, an approximate position of the object can be determined. Radar is effective in all weather conditions and at all times of day and can provide information on all vessels within radar range. However, it is limited in that each radar station provides coverage of a narrow sector, typically approximately 20 miles at sea, and the land clutter from the Suez can hinder the performance of the radar, which can cause blind spots in the radar picture.
While AIS is the only available system that monitors the traffic specifically, it only monitors the traffic of vessels also equipped with AIS. This limits its effectiveness because the Suez Canal is a narrow and congested waterway with constantly crossing traffic, and it is essential that all vessels are monitored. AIS is unable to monitor non-AIS equipped vessels, and the system is unable to keep track of the exact positions of vessels in order to predict and prevent potential traffic jams and collisions.
Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) is used as an aid for collision avoidance and is a system by which essential navigation information is sent between vessels and between vessels and a shore station. The information is encoded within VHF messages and includes the vessel’s Maritime Mobile Service Identity, position, course speed, and other data. This data can be received by other vessels or shore stations equipped with AIS receivers. Typically, AIS has a limited range, approximately 20-30 nautical miles depending on the height of the antenna.
Existing systems for monitoring maritime traffic in the Suez Canal are limited. There are various means of monitoring traffic: Vessel Traffic Services, Coastal Radar, and Automatic Identification Systems. However, these are used for ship management, to prevent collision, and to aid Search And Rescue, as opposed to a large-scale traffic monitoring system.

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