Skip to main content

Beyond the Horizon: Role of Technology in Mitigating Shipping Risk

8 minute read

Learn about different technologies mitigating shipping risk in Canadian waters and around the world

“Out of sight, out of mind” is an adage that does not apply to commercial shipping, with technology in place to enable safe navigation, but it can to vessels not required to carry automatic identification system (AIS) transponders that signal vessel location and activity to satellite or shore-based receivers. Data “pings” from AIS transponders occur every few seconds on average, informing other ships and shore-based observers of the position and status of the vessel carrying the AIS transponder.

Although AIS transponders come in two kinds (A and B class) and as of 2019 are required for all vessels in Canadian waters certified to carry more than 12 passengers or 8 m or more in length and carrying passengers,[1] there are still many small vessels operating without AIS. This puts the vessels at greater risk from navigational safety and search and rescue perspectives, and also means it is more difficult to track and understand the impact that these small vessels can have on ocean ecosystems due to noise, wake, and potential spills, among other impacts.

In an effort to understand the impacts of these non-AIS vessels, the Canadian Marine Shipping Risk Forum (CMSRF) convened a series of webinars starting in September 2023 to bring together experts in a range of technology areas to share and discuss innovative applications of these technologies to better understand what is happening beyond the horizon in Canadian waters.



Detecting Dark Vessels

Colin Robertson, Director of Data Science, GSTS provided an overview of GSTS’s data platform OcianaTM and its role in bringing together datasets for better decision-making about marine shipping, including just-in-time arrivals at ports and monitoring shipping emissions. Using OcianaTM, scientists can track “dark vessels”, vessels that are required to use AIS but have turned it off, or “gone dark” for a period of time. Detection is undertaken with a combination of satellite imagery, detection modelling, and deviations from expected behaviour (expectations developed from monitoring over time). Vessels could go dark for illegal fishing, illegal cargo, violating sanctions or marine protected areas – or from going into dry dock for repairs. An example of oil tankers detected in Russian waters in September 2022 was illustrated – extended gaps in the AIS dataset is an indicator of dark activity. OcianaTM is a tool to increase marine intelligence.

smartWhale Program Overview and Ecological Modelling

Josh van Berkel, Head of Sustainability Solutions – Marine & Coastal, DHI Water & Environment Inc. provided an overview of the smartWhale program being collaboratively developed with the Canadian Space Agency, DHI and WSP to help protect endangered North Atlantic Right Whales (NARW) from vessel strikes. Using hydrodynamic modelling of ocean habitat zones to generate spatially and temporally explicit suitable habitat areas will enable a Decision Support System that incorporates known vessel locations and likely areas of increased risk for NARW strikes.  

smartWhale Hindcast Risk Collision Results



Collecting Data on Non-AIS Vessels Using Aerial Surveys

Norma Serra, Environmental Analyst, Transport Canada and Jorge Quijano, Project Scientist, JASCO teamed up to describe the use of sensors mounted on Transport Canada’s National Aerial Surveillance Program aircraft to capture information on non-AIS vessels, and then apply this imagery to develop underwater noise assessments for the Pacific region. Relying on AIS information only will provide an incomplete understanding of actual risks and threats from vessels. The surveys showed considerably more non-AIS vessels along the Pacific coast of Canada, both recreational and fishing vessels, with more present during the summer months. The results suggest that non-AIS traffic makes a significant contribution to underwater noise in the region, particularly during the summer months when whales are more likely to be present.

NASP Plane and Equipment for Aerial Surveys

Monitoring Marine Conservation Areas Effectiveness Using Aerial and RADARSAT-2 Vessel Detection

Lily Burke, Research Biologist, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) described the use of RADARSAT and aerial survey data (from NASP and DFO creel surveys) to assess fishing activities in MPAs. With a significant expansion of MPAs since 2015, DFO needs monitoring tools to ensure MPAs are meeting their objectives and also ensure regulations to protect MPAs are effective, by monitoring human behaviour.

Risk-Aware Autonomous Port Inspection Drones (RAPID)

Gerard Dooly, Associate Professor, University of Limerick, Ireland shared the EU-funded RAPID project that is combining and extending drone technology to deliver a fully automated and safety-assured maintenance inspection service for bridges, ship hull surveys, and more. Specifically, the service will combine self-sailing unmanned surface vehicles with autonomous unmanned aerial systems. The aim is to reduce the time and cost of structural condition monitoring of maritime transport infrastructures such as material-handling equipment, cargo and passenger ships, and bridges. RAPID’s new system will also facilitate the prioritisation of safer transport infrastructure.



Monitoring Small Vessel Traffic using Wildlife Cameras to Support Marine Planning and Management on Haida Gwaii

Kil Hltaanuwaay Tayler Brown, Marine Spatial Planner, Marine Planning Program, Council of the Haida Nation was joined by Kelly Larkin, Enhanced Marine Situational Awareness (EMSA) Program Manager, Transport Canada, and Yury Bychkov, Software Developer/Computational Bioanalyst, LGL Limited to share the results of a project to monitor small vessel traffic near Haida Gwaii. In 2021, the CHN, with LGL Limited designed and implemented a pilot study to monitor 18 nearshore areas between May and September 2021 using wildlife cameras (a self-contained box with batteries and solar panel) and the EMSA platform. Utilizing YOLOv5 to process 5.5 million photos, nearly 35,000 images were identified with boats. The locations were then assessed with EMSA to understand the proportion of vessel traffic with and without AIS transponders. Another goal of the work was to provide non-AIS vessel data to better understand the impact of noise from small vessels in the area.

Shore-based camera installation and small vessel capture

Marine Monitor (M2) Shore Installation

Samantha Cope, Senior Scientist, Protected Seas provided an overview of the M2 system, a shore-based monitoring platform that integrates X-band marine radar, AIS, and optical cameras with custom software to autonomously track and report on vessel activity of all types. The M2 installation on San Juan Island overlooking Haro Strait in the Salish Sea, in partnership with Beam Reach and Orca Sound, demonstrated how M2 is being used to support maritime safety and independently monitor vessel activity. Protected Seas has recognized a clear need to monitor vessels without AIS, especially in marine protected areas. M2 can identify individual vessels within 1 nautical mile, the vessel type within 3 nautical miles, and the presence of a vessel within 5 nautical miles of the installation.

Comparing vessel sightings using the M2 in the Salish Sea



Using Autonomous Vessels for Maritime Observation, Monitoring, and Security

Dr. Fritz Stahr, Chief Technology Officer, Open Ocean Robotics described how solar-powered autonomous vessel technology can be used to collect and communicate ocean data to address illegal fishing activity, detect pollution, reduce greenhouse gases from shipping, and understand climate change in the ocean environment with many potential applications increase marine safety and sustainability.

Applying real-time coastal intelligence to quantify marine hazards and optimize decisions 

Dr. Scott Beatty, CEO, Marine Labs provided an overview of the CoastAwareTM platform and the various sources of data to provide both real-time and historical information to support informed decision-making. Data sources include placing sensors on buoys to collect wind and wave data. This information allows Marine Labs to detect wake from passing vessels in protected areas. Better information about wind and wave conditions can support safer navigation by helping mariners make better decisions about their operating environment. Marine Labs has also just launched BerthWatch, a first-of-its-kind real-time berth depth monitoring and reporting system to optimize docking and loading of ships.

CoastAwareTM Collecting Data on Wave Conditions

Using Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) to Bolster Safety and Operational Efficiency in Marine Shipping

Brayden Gibson-Wray, Director of Technical Sales and Training, SEAMOR Marine Ltd. provided an overview of how ROVs can be deployed to investigate underwater conditions, including navigational hazards, shipwrecks, or infrastructure such as marine terminals or subsea cables and pipelines, up to 600 m depth. The ROVs are equipped with cameras, sonar, lights, altimeter, and ultrasonic thickness gauges to understand corrosion in the underwater environment. This technology is also helpful to locate and retrieve ghost fishing gear from the marine environment.



Development ofCanadian Integrated Ocean Observing System (CIOOS)

Jonathan Kellogg, Science Communications Coordinator with the Hakai Institute provided an introduction to the Canadian Integrated Ocean Observing System (CIOOS). CIOOS is a collaboration with partners from coast to coast to coast bringing all of Canada’s ocean data under one online platform to make it easier for ocean data consumers to find, access, and reuse observations for improved place-based decision making. Anne-Sophie Ste-Marie, Interim Co-Director of the St Lawrence Global Observatory shared a tool in development related to shipping and boating activity in Canada that allows mariners to visualize the marine conditions in the St. Lawrence region for safer navigation. The goal with CIOOS is to develop informational tools that meet users’ needs.  



Detecting Whales with Thermal Land- and Vessel-based Sensors from Coast to Coast

Dr. Daniel Zitterbart, Associate Scientist, Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, shared his work in the Marine Animal Remote Sensing (MARS) lab to enable earlier detection of whales. By using remote sensing methods such as photography, satellites, radar, and passive acoustic monitoring, ships with a thermal camera installation can detect whale spouts between 2 and 13 km away, depending on weather conditions. Thermal imaging technology allows detection to occur at night and even in light fog. The earlier ships know about the presence of a whale, the more likely the ship will be able to slow down or maneuver to avoid striking the whale. This technology has been tested in British Columbia and Atlantic Canada, with both shore-based (7) and ship-based (3) installations so far. The system uses a scientist to check the data to confirm positive identification of whales. The whale species can be identified using colour camera data during daylight conditions, but North Atlantic Right Whales are the most difficult to positively identify as they are few, stay low in the water, and have few distinguishing characteristics (no tall dorsal fin like orcas). The detection models are also being trained to see small icebergs in the water.

Using Thermal Imaging to Detect Whales

This series of webinars will continue to share new developments in technology and how they are being applied to create a safer maritime environment.

Join the CMSRF to be notified of upcoming events.


Published | Last modified on