Saturday, January 23, 2010

AIS - Internet interfacing - dangers further explored

A couple of posts back, I tried to give examples regarding the
indiscriminate proliferation of internet AIS feeds, as seen from a
landlubbers perspective. Now I'm hoping to wade into the practical dangers
of this as faced by seamen.

Honestly, I have seen very less resistance from people regarding this trend,
but whenever something along this line does get raised, there are four basic
responses that crop up.
1. The info is already out there. The logic is that the feeds are already
out there if we like it or not. So might as well use them for whatever
benefit that we can get out of them. This is like justifying buying fur
because its already there in the store. Let me explain. The people who have
set up the AIS antennae on the shore are in it for the money. They are not
doing it because they want to see their dad sail into the harbour. John from
gCaptain explained the economics of the iphone Apps. His iPhone app for the
AIS (gTrax) sells for about five dollars on iTunes. Plus for every port that
you require a feed to, you need to pay ten dollars every month. Out of all
the revenue generated, about 50 percent goes to the people providing the
feed. Do the maths.

2. The threat is too improbable for any actual danger to ships. In forum
discussions I gave an example of sailing into an US port on a ship named
"Allah Laden" and how that might be targeted by college students with
iphones. Laughable right? Sitting in a US city, it certainly seems so. But
try sailing into the middle east with a ship named " Jesus H Christ" and are
you still that comfortable? You see, this is not something local to US
Coast. This is happening all over the world and personally as a guy who
might be sailing anywhere, it worries me. And the Americans should worry
too. The ISPS regulation was pushed through the IMO by the Americans mainly
as an response to 9/11. So the whole point of a regulation, in which you put
equipment on ships for better monitoring, is lost when you make it available
to the very people you want to keep out. Small boats and yachts are common
sights in US ports. Probably most of contributors of gCaptain have a couple
of boats themselves. If a bunch of Somalians can climb fast moving ships in
the middle of the sea while fighting resistance, there is not much stopping
an Al Quida cell from boarding slow moving LNG tankers in the miles of
inland US waters. Americans should worry. 9/11 was a local incident.

3. Just switch off the AIS. Sounds very simple. Infact, readers from a
non-sea background are probably going to ask at this point, "So if you
switch off the AIS, the transmission stops? Then what was all this bitching
Well its not so simple. Making the master responsible for switching off the
AIS is a very convenient ploy. He is anyway the guy who gets screwed
whenever there's a cock up, so why can't he be the fall guy for this as
well? The AIS is not to be switched off unless the master has good reasons
for switching it off. Who decides these good reasons? Sailing in the
Somalian coast is a very clear example. Even my company orders state that I
should switch off the AIS. But what about Sailing off the Benin, Nigerian
and the west African coast? Statistics prove that there are more piracy
incidents on West coast Africa then off Somalia. They are just low key. Can
I switch it off there? Suppose I'm an Indian Ship coasting Pakistani
waters, or an American ship coasting Iranian waters, then what? If some
incident does happen, the first thing that is going to be said is that the
Captain should have known better. So is the captain now supposed to read the
news daily and make threat assessments, that the whole Obama administration
routinely misses?
Take another case. I read the news. Diligently. And I arrive off Houston in
my assumed ship "Allah Laden" a day after the Fort Hood incident. A Muslim
has killed more than a dozen chaps and Obama issues a warning fearing for
reprisal attacks on Muslim targets. Hearing this, I immediately switch off
my AIS. Houston pilots have an intricate AIS system and our good friend
oneeighteen, boards and refuses to take in the ship unless I switch it back
on. What then?

I have been accused of making silly connections, but to me, passing the
onus, on switching off the AIS on the master, seems like an old western
movie, in which the local goons insist that they will shoot in the main
street and people who don't want to get shot can simply sit in their houses.

4. Lets just do it in America. The US is an awesome country. idea's born
here are going to take flight and go everywhere. AIS iphone apps for china
are not far and are probably already out there. There is nothing stopping it
from replicating anywhere. God knows that the Somalian pirates have enough
money to start off a system that they can use within their own network if
they put their mind to it. Give me a couple of million dollars and I will
set up an awesome system that will stream live info to only my core group.

And AIS is not the end. LRIT is just being started. An Antennae off Scotland
could pick up a ship off Somalia and feed it live on the internet. Is
something in place to stop that?

The tragedy of this whole thing is that the people feeding this whole
movement are the shipping fraternity. Joe, who goes online from his mom's
basement when not in college is not the one paying these AIS stations for
live feeds. Its the yatchmen, pilots, tugsters, shipping companies and
seagoing folks who are paying this and jeopardising themselves and their
fellow mates. People are taking any mention of stopping this as invasion of
their personal rights. Guys, this is a new technology and just because there
are no laws against it doesn't make it right. Just because god gave you a
big dick doesn't mean you have to fuck yourself in the arse with it. Another
silly connection, but there it is.

PS: As I am posting this by email, I couldn't put any links to the above. Am
writing this as a reminder to myself & to you if you need me in the future
to give you the links :
01. gTrax's business model
02. IMB's Piracy statistics.
03. Fort Hood incident
04. LRIT details


Mannu said...

Hello Sir. So, a nice self-examining post. The risk assessment for a new upcoming event, huh?
Anyways, to help matters, let me just cross it a little bit, and that would also make the exercise a little more interesting,:-
It seems to me that the theories on Security systems and policing are based on the lines that an innocent man has nothing to fear and therefore nothing to hide.Infact it is as much possible and easy a child's play, to create scenarios whereby not having an open system AIS system could be shown to be leading to incidents.Yes, anyone can do that.
But as i say the premise of innocence and therefore the allied businesses in today's world is coming from the point - nothing-to-fear-and-hide, and the transperency demand, opacity is being dispensed with unless it can sufficiently proven that opacity is severly needed to help the matters.
Private spaces have already been breached. From mobile phones cameras, to security cameras, to the frisking activity, to the human body scanners, at airport to evesdropping by police...where is the private space left?!?! And that's what the modern world is.It is very important to amend the mental understanding of such issues these days to soothen our owneselves and adapt better.
Infact, the word "disceretion" is another most misunderstood concept in Indian minds. Weis is very important that all seafarers and management thinkers begin to take notice of the point that in modern world actions happen on advise from somebody or someone while that someone claims not to assume any responsibilty for the correctness of his advise for every case! therefore, there exist a confusion and wise men shuold let the confusion prevail instead of making it one side tilted platter by putting the weight of exercised-discretion!

With this approach it will be more convenient to face the law than when trying to prove that yous sense of discretion on fundamental matters is better than most others.!

The openess or providing info on net may not be as much hazardous, if we can recall well the final say on that basic debate of school year "Science a good master or a good slace". Well, i remember that the most appealing answer was that:- it's the human's sense of morality that should be questioned, and not the science.

A deep thought on these line and i guess it can quench most of the arguments and clashes of our mind.

Karen said...

Whilst AIS information is open and accessible, it should be remembered that LRIT data is secured and is not publicly available. This data is provided by satellite communcations channels only the Flag State to which the vessel is registerd. This is entirely distinct from the way that AIS operates over radio channels. There is no way that anyone would know that a vessel was LRIT compliant or that it was sending a position report under LRIT legislation.