The Impact Of The New IMO ECEDIS Standard

The much anticipated passing of an International Maritime Organization (IMO) standard for Electronic Chart Display Information Systems (ECDIS), expected by November 1995, will impact the ECDIS industry in three ways. First, by its very existence, the standard will serve to legitimize electronic charting. Second, the IMO endorsement will increase demand for ECDIS data and systems by SOLAS class shipowners and government agencies. Third and perhaps most important — the passing of this standard wil usher in a new age of government and private sector cooperation for achieving common goals.

In contrast with the impact on the industry as a whole, there will be little impact on the actual configuration of existing ECDIS databases and the systems already produced by manufacturers. ECDIS technology is not new; it debuted in 1986 with the North Sea Project and has been undergoing change gradually. These changes have been in accordance with the IMO standard as it is written now, so all that has really been missing is the final IMO stamp of approval.

Most companies who have been actively involved in the development of ECDIS over the past decade are already in compliance with the standard. There is just one obstacle: complete worldwide data in the form of a vectorized ECDIS database is not yet available, and most government agencies are unable, for different reasons, to develop an ECDIS database on their own to meet the anticipated demand.

Over the past decade, there has been extensive testing with ECDIS, and existing ECDIS data have been used mostly for this purpose (although a handful of shipowners interested in the latest technology have already purchased systems). But the complexity and uncertainty of the standard's passing have delayed the completion of a world database of ECDIS charts for SOLAS class ships. C-MAP has in its ECDIS portfolio 3,000 charts, of which 50 already have some level of endorsement from a Hydrographic Office (HO). Soon, as a result of the new IMO standard, demand for certified charts will accelerate. Yet, the task of certifying a world database in a short time is quite possible.

Government and private sectors working cooperatively to produce the ECDIS data would eliminate the major obstacle now impeding a swift use of the new IMO ECDIS standard on a global basis. Companies could supplement the government's production and distribution capabilities, while the HOs could conduct the validation and authorization of all data provided. The mixing of private with government sectors—while seemingly nontraditional has already worked.

In Italy, C-MAP has been producing electronic charts, over the past year, in cooperation with the local HO. C-MAP provides the data, and the HO provides the final quality checking. These data have already been released around the world on an experimental basis. Another similar situation is developing in the U.S., where C-MAP has delivered quality control software, DX-90 editor, plus test data, to NOAA for its review and testing. A third example is NDI, the private sector electronic chart partner to the Canadian Hydrographic Ser- vice.

NDI has actually been the first case of such a cooperation, and has set a new model that is being watched by many HOs around the world. As an indication of the global nature of navigation, it is worth noting that C-MAP and NDI have recently entered into a strategic alliance which encompasses all aspects of the market, including: production and distribution of electronic charts, cooperation with hydrographic offices, sharing of technology, and the standardization of electronic chart usage. As part of this agreement, C-MAP has acquired an equity position in NDI. The Canadian Hydrographic Service has fully supported this agreement and has reaffirmed its partnership with NDI. As G.R. Douglas, Canada's Dominion Hydrographer, said: "Although it is strictly a business arrangement between two companies, we consider it to be a very positive move towards the integration of electronic chart services and the cooperation between the Government Hydrographic Offices and the Industry." There are several ways a government agency could take advantage of the support available from the private sector. For example, C-MAP and NDI could provide a complete supply of data for certification, or just the hardware and software tools for data production and quality checking. With these options, HOs could choose the level of support they required, and all countries might easily and quickly participate in the development of a worldwide ECDIS database.

A perceived obstacle which has been written about lately is the need to have the world's waterways resurveyed, and the lack of resources available to do so. This, as it pertains to the effective introduction of ECDIS for use by SOLAS class ships, should not be a big obstacle. Most travel lane data required for safe travel by SOLAS class ships are accurate enough as they are today or could be quickly re-surveyed for the purpose. If there is a particular area which is deemed unsafe or, for some reason, cannot be re-surveyed, it could also be designated on the electronic chart as a "no data" area or "unsafe" zone. The capacity to designate a particular area as an "unsafe" zone is truly an important safety feature of an ECDIS quality chart, and it should be freely used and duly respected.

Once a worldwide ECDIS database is completed and endorsed by HOs, the next step making ECDIS mandatory on all SOLAS class ships. Only then could ECDIS be used most successfully to increase the safety of the world's waterways. When ECDIS becomes required technology, the charting function of the information system could potentially advance to a more mature format through the transformation of electronic charts into something more than an electronic version of paper charts: a safety system which would clearly define operational space, navigational rules and procedural instructions; and that would prompt the captain with an alarm if a violation of the rules occurred. This form of ECDIS would change navigation forever by reducing it to a set of predefined procedures, leaving little room for the subjective judgment of the captain. But by performing this function, ECDIS would help increase the safety of the world's waterways and could potentially reduce pollution from maritime incidents

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