Shipping’s electronic technology is vulnerable to sabotage and accidental disruption
Craig Eason in Lloyds List Tuesday 22 January 2013
MODERN vessels rely increasingly on electronic navigation systems, most of which have a strong reliance on global navigation satellite systems, writes Craig Eason in Stockholm .
Trials are beginning next month on how a back-up system, e-loran, can be integrated into bridge systems to improve reliability, given how easy it is to jam a GNSS signal.
GNSS includes the best-known system, Global Satellite Positioning, and the high-profile European Galileo programme and the Russian Glonass.
India, Japan and China also have their own systems that are either operational or in the making.
For a number of years the General Lighthouse Authority and the Royal Institute of Navigation has been warning of the ease with which vessels can have their navigational satellite signals disrupted by handy, cheap and easy-to-acquire jammers.
Things have hardly changed. Although, as there are increased commercial interests ashore that have also become reliant on GPS for both timings and positions, the problem of over-reliance remains serious, particularly in the maritime world.
David Last, former president of the Royal Institute of Navigation, says the maritime world has not thought through the implications of GPS failure on vessels and has certainly not incorporated this into its training and procedures.
Shipping is going through a process where all commercial vessels are required to have electronic chart display and information system installed. If a vessel has two Ecdis, it can become a paperless vessel, meaning it can navigate without the traditional paper charts.
The problem has been the navigation officers’ increased reliance on the technology and not on traditional navigational skills.
Supportive of the development of modern navigation technology, Professor Last says there remains a strong need for the industry to have back-up for GPS signals.
GLA has for many years been trying out a land-based long-range radio signal transmission, e-loran. The system is now up and running in Dover and will be trialled on board the new ferry Spirit of Britain .
GLA will also conduct a failure of signal exercise on one of its vessels in February. Galatea will again have its GPS signal deliberately jammed to test whether inbuilt e-loran signal receivers will seamlessly take over.
Prof Last was surprised to see which systems failed when the GLA undertook earlier exercises to disrupt a GPS signal. He warns that often the GPS signal disruption is not detected, leading navigation equipment to give incorrect yet plausible information that may not be easily noticed.
The failures were not limited to the Ecdis; a host of other systems were disrupted that have GPS receivers inbuilt, such as automatic identification signal transmission, radar, gyro and satellite communication systems, even ships’ clocks, dynamic positioning systems and helipad stabilization systems.
There is always the risk of malicious disruption targeting a vessel’s GPS but also — and this is being seen more frequently — small GPS jammers installed in stolen luxury cars being shipped out of the UK in a container. That jammer can then disrupt the GPS signals of surrounding vessels.
Also seen abroad is deliberate military jamming, with North Korea occasionally jamming GPS signals in South Korea, causing maritime disruption. South Korea is reported to be considering e-loran as a back up to counter this.