Sharing the Responsibility for Safe Vessel Operations

The task of protecting pipeline and other remote infrastructure from damage caused by the vessels that transit over them or pass nearby has become increasingly collaborative and proactive over the
past several years. When the Coastal and Marine Operators (CAMO) group piloted a pipeline protection and safety program at Port Fourchon, Louisiana, in 2015, the goal was to prove that automatic Identification System (AIS) data could be used to monitor and automatically alert vessel operators that might be slowing, stopping, or anchoring inside pipeline corridors. Since then, the industry has built on the CAMO pilot’s success to extend the benefits of AIS-based infrastructure protection tools beyond preemptive real-time vessel alerting to also include improved response collaboration and more effective threat assessment and mitigation based on an analysis of historical vessel data.

A Shared Responsibility
International and inland navigation rules state that every vessel is responsible for preventing collisions
and, based on prevailing circumstances and conditions, must maintain an appropriate lookout using all available means to determine if the risk of collision exists. In contrast, operators of fixed assets have traditionally only been obligated to deploy passive mitigation measures. The growing availability and affordability of new technology is changing this dynamic, creating the growing expectation that pipe-line operators should also play a key role in proactively preventing an incident.

Indeed, today’s AIS-based vessel-tracking tools give infrastructure operators everything they need to actively collaborate with vessel operators on pipeline protection and incident prevention. Following the success of the CAMO pilot, numerous major oil companies began deploying AIS-based pipeline protection tools to continuously assess AIS vessel position data and/or radar information so they could help vessel operators keep their crews safe and reduce risks and liability, while protecting people, assets and the environment from the damaging and often disastrous consequences of pipeline strikes. Early adopters began realizing benefits almost immediately.

For instance, within the first few days of one company’s deployment of these tools, an AIS-driven alert was triggered for a vessel in a monitored pipeline zone. Once the alert was validated and it was clear a vessel had stopped within feet of a pipeline, a field inspector was notified and dispatched. The inspector confirmed the vessel’s location relative to the pipeline and notified the field supervision, who then notified the company’s Control Center and requested that the monitoring system confirm the pipeline was operating within normal operating limits. The field inspector contacted the vessel owner, who provided the vessel captain’s phone number. The captain was contacted and asked for an ALL STOP until further notice due to his proximity to the pipeline and notifications were made to all stake-holders. Information was reviewed and it was determined that the vessel should stop all movement until high tide so as not to be a threat to the pipeline. The field supervisor provided the vessel’s captain
the information necessary so that at high tide the vessel was able to safely maneuver away from the
pipeline without any incident.

Extending AIS-based Solutions to Shore-Based Monitoring Centers
Infrastructure operators have quickly realized the benefits of shore-based monitoring, but also recognized there was an increase of valuable data that needed to be assessed. Some of these organizations are now looking to leverage centralized “virtual watch teams.” They are consolidating all processing and management of AIS and other remote data sensors into a single shore-based
operations center, enabling them to remotely monitor multiple assets or large areas of infrastructure or assets so they can continuously evaluate threats using a consistent set of processes and tools. A small centralized team can quickly make assessments and optimize the resources necessary to mitigate validated threats.

There are numerous benefits to this approach. First, the use of a centralized team optimizes all training and standardized operating procedures, allowing best practices to be more easily applied across multiple assets. Also, labor costs can be reduced since there is no need to deploy staff across
multiple locations or global regions. Finally, there is also the option to outsource a centralized monitoring solution so that operators don’t have to bear the expense of investing in their own qualified
staff and dedicated facility. A proper monitoring facility will not only respond to the initial alerts, but will be able to quickly detect and respond to network or sensor issues located across their infra-structure to ensure accurate and timely data. The monitoring facility should also have contingency plans in place to address network and power outages with backup systems.

Leveraging Historical Data to Improve Threat Assessment and Mitigation
With today’s tools, operators can collaborate with vessels to preempt strikes before they occur while  also achieving a more comprehensive vulnerability picture so they can improve their overall risk
mitigation strategies.

In many cases, analytics based on historical AIS data has enabled pipeline operators to uncover high-risk pipeline segments that were previously believed to have minimal or no traffic passing over them. Risk matrices can include pipelines’ depth of cover, traffic volumes, and information about vessel type and draft of the passing vessels across up to five years of historical tracking data. The availability of this information greatly improves risk assessments and enables operators to more effectively target where outreach campaigns should be focused. For instance, operators can even identify specific vessels or fleet owners for outreach and education if they appear to be consistently operating near their infra-structure. In some cases, it might be a single fishing fleet that routinely passes over and stops near pipelines. With this intelligence, an operator can very precisely target awareness outreach.

Having a historical perspective about vessel movements in and around pipelines and other remote
infrastructure also enables operators to better direct resources for survey and maintenance schedules. It is also a good way to validate that the activities of contracted vessels match the reported times of operation.

Deploying an Asset Protection Program
Most of the world’s top oil and gas companies are already using AIS-based solutions to optimize dock and terminal scheduling and resource planning to improve processes and simplify demurrage claim validation. Establishing a monitoring protection program simply extends these solutions’ capabilities.

The first step is to assess the location of your assets, understand the specific threats, and determine
the optimal hardware to address the anticipated risks. A very likely choice would be to deploy an AIS Aid to Navigation (ATON) that is programmed to actively notify nearby vessels of the pipeline or asset’s location. An AIS ATON can be associated with either a real or virtual ATON and is capable of transmitting safety messages to vessels within range. These messages are sent directly to the wheel-house of the encroaching vessel to warn its captain and crew of the specific threat, and only when the vessel operates in a way that appears to threaten the asset. Any organization can apply for an AIS  ATON for their pipeline or other fixed asset through a U.S. Coast Guard application process and supporting Federal Communications Commission (FCC) application.

The cost of deploying an ATON can conceivably be shared among multiple companies. It is also
important to consider other data sources, such as radar. By integrating this additional data feed, even
vessels that are not transmitting AIS signals can be monitored. Radar data also increases reliability and security, since AIS could be broken, turned off, or altered to misrepresent activities or position details. In contrast, the use of radar ensures these vessels are still visible, both in real time and for historical tracking purposes. When AIS is combined with radar and other data sources, it provides a more complete picture of vessels moving around marine infrastructure. A key aspect of setting up a service to monitor a large number of assets is to create the correct parameters that trigger each alert. There are several considerations that drive how operators prioritize and escalate alerts, depth of water, proximity to other assets and anticipated vessel speeds, or if the asset is a manned platform that would require evacuation verses a submerged pipeline. Finally, the most critical aspect of any monitoring
program is ensuring that you have the right people assessing the data. When assessing vessel move-ments and their interactions with your assets, the optimal team is comprised of professional mariners who can quickly validate if a vessel’s actions represent a true threat, greatly reducing the cost  associated with prematurely deploying additional resources to assess the situation.

The industry has come a long way in the past two years. With the advent of AIS-based pipeline
protection and asset monitoring solutions, the waters in and around pipeline infrastructure are much safer, and mariners are much better educated about how to properly avoid pipeline interactions and do their work more safely. At the same time, pipeline operators are rapidly embracing the power of the historical data that these tools generate so they can better assess threats and mitigate risks. Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of these AIS-based tools, though, is that they are fostering greater communication between infrastructure owners and operators and vessel companies. The more this
continues, the better off the industry will be.

Jason Tieman is the Oceaneering Director of Maritime Solutions – Global Data Solutions division for PortVision ®. He also served a combination of 15 years of active and reserve service as an officer in the U.S. Coast Guard. To learn more, visit

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