Handover of Marine Electronic Highway Information Technology System

Handover of Marine Electronic Highway Information Technology System
Batam, Indonesia
Speech by Koji Sekimizu
Secretary-General, International Maritime Organization

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a genuine pleasure for me to be here today at this ceremony to mark the handover of the Marine Electronic Highway Information Technology System to the Government of Indonesia, specifically to the Directorate General of Sea Transportation, DGST.

First, because this represents a major, tangible step towards the realization of a concept which I believe has a strong future and a vital role to play within shipping; and, second, because more than a decade ago I was personally involved in the very early stages of this project; indeed, together with my colleagues from the World Bank, I was heavily involved in making the decision that the data centre for the Marine Electronic Highway, or MEH, should be located here in Batam, I have maintained a strong personal interest in the project ever since, and it is a source of great satisfaction for me to be able to come full-circle and participate in this handover ceremony today.
Before I speak about this facility and the significance of its handover, I should just like to say a few words about the MEH itself.

The concept of traffic control in the maritime world is very different from traffic control in the world of aviation.  We should recognize differences in culture that exist between the two forms of transport. For the comparatively younger sector, aviation, ground authorities are holding much greater control of aircraft movements, locations and flight paths; whereas the more traditional shipping sector has continued to invest more responsibility in the Master of the vessel itself.

But with continuous increases in the number, size and speed of ships, it is now a common understanding that shipping needs to operate with an increased level of shore-based support if navigational safety and environmental protection are to be maintained and enhanced. This is particularly so in and around choke points such as straits, narrows, shoal waters and port approaches.
The MEH is a bold conceptual step, aimed at harnessing the ever-increasing sophistication and accessibility of information technology to provide a comprehensive decision-making support system. It will integrate and display information from a variety of sources, such as AIS, radar, electronic charts, weather stations, wind and tide sensors and so on, to offer previously unimagined levels of functionality, accuracy, resolution and quality to those responsible for vessel navigation.

At the same time, MEH will also incorporate data on local ecological conditions, such as the extent of coral reefs and mangrove forests, which, together with hydrodynamic and oil-spill models, will also create an invaluable resource for those on shore whose job is to deal with the consequences of any accident  that might occur.
And where can we develop and trial such a system other than one of the most and challenging and pressurized of the world’s maritime choke points, here in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, or SOMS?

Situated between Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula, these Straits are approximately 1,000 km long, 300 km wide at their north-west entrance, and just 12 km wide at their south-east entrance, between Singapore and Indonesia’s Riau Archipelago. They are shallow, with narrow channels, irregular tides and shifting bottom topography.
And yet, despite their difficult navigational features, the Straits are the shortest, and hence the preferred, shipping route between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, and for oil tankers trading between the Persian Gulf and the fast-growing countries of East Asia.

There are, of course, maritime safety infrastructures and regulatory mechanisms already in place in the Straits that have reduced the frequency of ship collisions, groundings and oil spills such as the VTS and the mandatory STRAITREP.  Nevertheless, all those involved in the MEH project have clearly recognized that an innovative approach to improving the management of maritime traffic and marine environment protection in the Straits could enhance the situation still further.

The Information Technology System that we are handing over today is one of the major deliverables of the MEH Demonstration Project, which has been underway since 2006. The overall objective of the project has been to determine whether a full-scale MEH in the Straits can be economically justified and made financially feasible. In particular, the project has sought to assist the littoral states – the Republic of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Republic of Singapore – together with representatives of some of the large commercial shipowners that use the Straits, to decide, collectively, whether to establish a marine electronic highway along its entire length.

What we are handing over today is a functioning facility that harnesses the power of information technology to assist safe navigation through a defined and limited part of the Straits. The MEH Demonstration Project has been extended until the end of this year, in order that all its tasks can be completed and that technical and financial evaluations of this facility in Batam can be carried out.

Attention now turns to whether or not the MEH Project as a whole can and will be sustained, and whether or not this facility has the potential to be used as a building block in the establishment of an all-encompassing, regional MEH system.

The institutional sustainability of the MEH Project as a whole, as well as that of the Batam MEH IT System, is the major issue that the MEH Demonstration Project will have to address prior to closure.
As far as the Batam MEH IT System is concerned, much of the responsibility will, as you might expect, fall to the host country, Indonesia, and in particular the DGST (Directorate General of Sea Transportation).

After this handover, Indonesia must ensure that the operation, maintenance and management of the MEH IT System remains in Batam and that sufficient, suitably qualified IT specialists will be deployed, not only to operate and maintain it, but also to work closely with Malaysia and Singapore on the regional MEH system, beyond the demonstration phase. Funding for the operation, maintenance and management of the facility needs to be properly allocated. 

With the grant from the World Bank, Indonesia should be in a position to accelerate the implementation of activities that will enhance the safety of navigation along the Sumatran coast of the Straits by putting in place the relevant maritime safety infrastructure, not only to provide data to the MEH IT System but also to enhance the monitoring and management of the Indonesian coasts of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore.

Clearly, this handover of the MEH IT System to the DGST is a great opportunity for Indonesia to step up as one of the key partners in the establishment of a regional MEH System, together with Malaysia and Singapore.
But it is not solely on the shoulders of Indonesia that the onus of bringing the MEH concept to fruition will fall. The other stakeholders must also make their contributions.

Looking further ahead, the Project Steering Committee (the policy-making body of the MEH Project) meeting in Jakarta, in June this year, agreed that the MEH Project should become a permanent working group under the Tripartite Technical Expert Group (TTEG) for the Safety of Navigation in the Straits, which is the decision-making body of the Cooperative Mechanism established between the littoral States to address matters of mutual concern regarding the waterway. It is envisaged that TTEG will take on the role of the Project Steering Committee at closure of the Project, on 31 December 2012.

It is also proposed to link the MEH Project to the Cooperative Mechanism in order to support the maintenance of existing work programmes, put forward and develop new initiatives for demonstration and secure access to voluntary contributions, whether financial or in-kind. These work programmes are related to the activities of the Cooperative Mechanism, which already includes six projects related to the activities of the MEH Project.

The institutional sustainability of the MEH Project as a whole will require both Malaysia and Singapore to establish – and finance – MEH data centres similar to this facility here in Batam, in order to establish a regional network.
The development of a regional MEH System to cover the whole of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, or to extend it beyond its current scope to other high-priority sea-lanes, will require partnerships between Governments, the shipping industry and other interested stakeholders. Joint ventures or forms of private-public partnership should  have a role to play. The MEH, as a financially sustainable system in a partnership arrangement between government and the shipping industry and other stakeholders, providing services and products to them all, certainly invokes the spirit of Article 43 of UNCLOS, which deals with navigational and safety aids and the prevention, reduction and control of pollution.

It must be remembered that there are many others, beyond the littoral States, who have a legitimate and strategic interest in the continued, uninterrupted integrity of the Straits. The detrimental effects of any major incident is clear to everybody, given the amount of shipping that transits the Straits every day. I believe there is a clear obligation on those who would benefit from a system such as the MEH to accept some of the responsibility for providing the resources needed to establish, maintain, operate and develop it.
The shipping industry, for example, has previously made enthusiastic and supportive actions for the MEH, and suggested that a considerable amount of support would be forthcoming. I would urge the industry now to follow up its statements of positive intent with tangible and meaningful support for the project. Specifically, I would urge the International Chamber of Shipping and INTERTANKO to support the forthcoming second sea trial and carry out meaningful dialogue with the littoral States and the project team regarding their participation.

And, in the longer term, for the MEH to be sustained, a mechanism must be found for those who benefit from it to contribute substantially to the cost of providing it. I think this has particular resonance in the light of the Rio+20 Conference in June, when IMO and the shipping industry collectively, reaffirmed our commitment to sustainable maritime development.

Ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion, may I extend my thanks to all those who have contributed towards the Marine Electronic Highway project thus far. In this context, I am thanking in particular of the Global Environment Facility of the World Bank, which has provided the bulk of the funding and enabled IMO to perform its function as the executing agency for the project; to the Republic of Korea, which has also provided grant funding for the project; and, of course, to the three littoral States – Indonesia, in particular, for the efforts it has made so far to help bring this facility to the point where we can formally hand it over.

I should like to offer my congratulations to the Project Management Office and its staff, led by Raja Malik Saripulazan, for their efforts and hard work in the establishment of the MEH IT System, and also to acknowledge the work of the IMO Secretariat’s Marine Environment Division for its role in the development and implementation of the Project. Let me also thank the Project Steering Committee for its continued support and co-operation.

My final thought is that we stand here today, not at the end of an initiative, but at the beginning of a wonderful new opportunity to help usher shipping into a new era of safety, efficiency and environmental sensitivity. For me, the development of the maritime infrastructure and the move towards new and improved ways of achieving enhanced navigation and traffic control are among the pillars of sustainable maritime development. I firmly believe that the Marine Electronic Highway can be a great success – indeed, that it can provide a blueprint for similar schemes in other parts of the world; and that, collectively, they can have a massive beneficial effect on our global society which depends so much on the safe, secure, efficient and green carriage of trade, by sea.

We hand over this facility to Indonesia with our very best wishes; and to Indonesia and the other stakeholders we confidently entrust our aspirations for its future.

Thank you.