Future uses of AIS

AIS was initially developed and introduced as a measure to support navigational safety. Today, the signals transmitted through the system are used to track the movement of vessels, even if the owners of those vessels would prefer otherwise.

One future of AIS could be that it will no longer provide its data unencrypted. The owners of the ships and AIS devices may win the battle over who owns their data, and achieve that in future the data will only be transmitted encrypted. This would be bad news for those of us interested in trade transparency, optimization, and monitoring of environmental indicators.

Assuming – and hoping – that AIS signals will continue to be transmitted unencrypted, there are four main areas where the usage of AIS can be enhanced in future. They all benefit from combining AIS data with other sources of data and information, and respond to growing demands for the 1) optimization of the supply chain, 2) environmental concerns, 3) trade statistics and forecasts, and 4) transparency, and trade and transport facilitation.

1) Optimizing the supply chain

Already today, initiatives such as port call optimization[1] benefit from AIS data. Beyond the sea-side of the operation, the whole chain for vessel and cargo movements along the supply chain would benefit from exchanging data, including data from AIS, but also data on other modes of transport, the ports, and the goods that are being traded.

Digitalization and new developments in artificial intelligence, blockchain, the Internet of things and automation, are of increasing relevance to maritime transport. They help optimize existing processes, create new business opportunities and transform supply chains and the geography of trade. Notwithstanding the potential opportunities and benefits offered by these technologies, they also entail risks and potential costs to maritime actors in developing countries. It is thus necessary to establish a level playing field. Concretely, There is a need for policy design at the national and international levels to ensure that developing countries can benefit from the digitalization of maritime transport. It is important to provide support for innovation at home, as policies that facilitate access to cutting edge technologies can affect the trade competitiveness of importers and exporters. Developing countries need to build institutional capacity in competition and data protection. Policymakers can facilitate cooperation by promoting national collaborative platforms. [2]

2) Environmental concerns

Shipping will have to move away from carbon. Initiatives such as the Getting to Zero Coalition, supported by UNCTAD, aim at reducing CO2 emissions from shipping to net-zero.[3]

A ship’s emissions depend on numerous factors, including the fuel used and speed. Combining AIS data with information on the engine and fuel, and possibly other observation mechanisms[4] could help monitor and enforce future emission regulations.

AIS data – in combination with information about the ship’s engine and fuel – can also help assign CO2 emissions to the country of the vessel’s flag or the country’s waters where the CO2 is being emitted. This, in turn, could in principle be used to collect levies proportional to the emissions by the flag state or the state where the emissions take place.

3) Trade statistics and forecasts

At present, the AIS data itself does not include information about the cargo the ships carry. However, by combining the data on vessel moves and drafts with information on the vessel type, trade flows, and the countries of departure and destination, the AIS data will help obtain an increasingly exact and current picture of trade flows.

Combined with information on the speed of vessels, port departures and idle ships, this can serve to produce “nowcasts”[5] and forecasts of trade and economic growth. It can also help verify trade statistics, by checking published trade data against the vessel moves that would have been necessary to actually transport those goods.

4) Transparency, and trade and transport facilitation

Comparing schedules with actually voyage data, comparing ports and lines among themselves regarding their reliability and time spent in port, and other future relevant performance indicators will allow shippers – the clients of the carriers – to compare carriers and ports when making their choices with whom to work. Also, port and maritime authorities, or ministries of trade, can benefit from such performance measures when monitoring the successful implementation of Customs or port reforms.

Already today, port turnaround times are calculated and published,[6] applying a homogenous methodology, producing comparable data for countries and ports around the world. Over time, this will also allow to observe trends and help shippers make choices for ports or carriers.  


[1] https://portcalloptimization.org/

[2] https://unctad.org/en/pages/PublicationWebflyer.aspx?publicationid=2479

[3] https://www.globalmaritimeforum.org/getting-to-zero-coalition

[4] https://twitter.com/Splash_247/status/1191979041533972480

[5] https://unctad.org/en/pages/PublicationWebflyer.aspx?publicationid=2301

[6] https://unctad.org/en/pages/newsdetails.aspx?OriginalVersionID=2162

Global ship registers

There are various providers (see below) of Global ship registers containing useful variables of specific ships. IHS purchased the company Lloyds Register, which issued/ issues the IMO numbers (it is now taken over by IHS).  There is also "Lloyds List" and Lloyds List Intelligence, which are from the competitor INFORMA, a British company competing with the US American IHS. 

There are four major providers today: 

1) https://www.lloydslistintelligence.com/services/data-and-analytics

2) https://ihsmarkit.com/products/maritime-ship-tracker-ais-live-ship-data-seaweb.html

3) https://sin.clarksons.net/ (note: UNCTAD uses this list)

​And, more recently, but also comprehensive, 4) https://www.vesselsvalue.com/

Example from IMO database provided by IHS:

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