ExactEarth’s impending real-time AIS (with just a 14.5 second lag) may prove a game changer with regard to vessel tracking, but it opens a can of worms for owners wishing to keep their ship locations secret for commercial reasons. A prime reason to withhold the eventual destination of a vessel may be to prevent ship charterers from using the information to negotiate a lower freight rate on the vessel’s next journey. Other reasons include vessel runs to destinations that might otherwise elicit protests for political reasons, particularly with weapons cargo.
The advanced AIS technology not only means that owners would no longer be able to obscure this information, but also that in some cases, charterers could influence the choice of routes taken by the operators as they would be able to see the routing in real time. Furthermore, Peter Mabson, exactEarth CEO, says that in the future, ports could also use this system to calculate approaching traffic and to identify vessels that may be experiencing engine trouble and having trouble staying on course.
It is of note that the company has been accumulating the AIS information for five and a half years and can easily share this information with any of its vetted customers – thereby allowing those companies to have up to date information on their competitors activities.
While owners are unable to prevent distribution of their real time vessel information, Mabson tells The Marine Professional that “exactEarth is committed to the responsible use of our satellite AIS data and is regulated by the Canadian government in this regard. If any shipowner has a non-commercial reason why their data should not be made available in particular circumstances they should contact us at so that we can review the situation.”
Of course, the biggest demand for real time vessel tracking would come from governments which would like to know the whereabouts of all vessels in their waters. “A government would be keen to know if a vessel switches off its AIS tracker as this would indicate that it was about to do something that it shouldn’t. If they are able to know in less than a minute that a ship is going offline, they would be able to deal with unscrupulous operators much faster,” Daryl Williamson, commercial development director for Lloyd’s List Intelligence told this publication.