What is Marine Traffic Data & How to Use It

Marine Traffic Data is descriptive information on marine traffic and it is often used to track vessels and shipments in a global context. This data can be gathered from satellite sources and it yields important statistics for shipping companies willing to track their processes in real time.

What is Marine Data?

Marine traffic data is a treasure trove of descriptive information that provides insights about the movement of freight by water, ships, sea routes, and ports on a global scale.

It is typically used by coastal or logistics authorities to track and monitor vessel movements and avoid collisions. Financial institutions use marine data to generate alpha by inferring macroeconomic signals.

Insurance companies thrive to optimize their underwriting and product pricing whereas several NGOs apply it to detect illegal fishing initiatives or impact on climate and ecosystems.

Why is Marine Data Important?

For hundreds of years, oceans have been important for people as a means of transporting goods from one place to another. But as containerization, the greatest revolution of modern transport of the 20th century took place, global vessel traffic spiked up drastically.

Today, more than 90% of cargo is carried by sea transport with growing demand. Not only this, but around 80% of the global trade by volume and over 70% of the global trade by value is carried by ships (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development). This is the reason that thousands of container ships float around the oceans, lakes, and rivers each day.
This increase in global ship traffic has made it indispensable to start tracking vessel positions in order to get an overview of the water-based traffic situation and prevent ships from collisions to protect losses and environmental damages.

The Automatic Identification System (AIS), a worldwide standard, was introduced in 2014. It automates tracking on board of vessels with a gross tonnage of over 300 and all passenger ships regardless of their size.
A few years ago, this data was only available to fleet managers, institutional authorities and governments. However today, many data initiatives, data platforms, and data providers have made this data publicly available and more conveniently accessible for various applications on business cases.

How to use Marine Data?

Marine data is witnessing rapid growth, so much so that the annual marine data collected by China amounts to more than 41,000 G, collecting more than 322 million items in 2014. Fast forward to now, it is not tough to conclude that this data volume would only have reached notches now.

So how marine data is used and what are its varied use cases? Let’s find out.

Safety
Domestic coast guards and harbor guides are obliged to maintain safety and security for shipping activities of all kinds. With marine data, they can prevent, approach and clear potential conflicts, collisions and incidents in a busy ocean in a highly automated way.

Feasibility
When setting up new off-Shore parks or new energy capturing platform in the ocean, historical marine traffic data is used for selecting non-hazardous positions that are easy to navigate around.

Tracking
As the measurement of logistical efficiency does not start or stop at the harbor, many global logistics enterprises are tracking their vessel process in real-time and make this information available to their customers.

Ship movement prediction
In addition to tracking logistics, marine data is also used for vessel tracking, ship tracking, and container tracking. It is essential for the marine navigator to predict the future positions of the ship to avoid collisions. This is when maritime data is used to predict ship movement trajectory with the help of navigational data fusion.

Forecast
On the never-ending hunt for new sources of alpha quantitative, hedge funds or similar financial institutions e.g. map historical and real-time maritime data from oil tankers to identify mispriced securities and forecast what’s actually going on in economic supply and demand across the planet.

Estimations
Global insurance and especially re-insurance companies apply marine traffic data to better quantify the hazards posed by a maritime accident in terms of hull loss, fatality, and direct economic loss and can optimize their underwriting processes and policy pricing respectively.

Policing
In order to detect illegal fishing activity, or measure the impact of global sea freight cargo on several ecosystems or climate change, various NGOs make use of this data.

What Are Typical Marine Data Attributes?

Asides data about ports, regions, water depth or vessel images Marine traffic data providers offer a variety of dynamic data and static data points such as:

  • Vessel Identifier
  • Ship Position (LAT, LON)
  • Navigation Data (Heading, Course, Speed)
  • Timestamp
  • Key Vessel Particulars (Ship Length, Type, Beam, Flag, Shipyard)
  • Voyage Information (Route, ETA, Origin, Destination, Draught, etc.)
  • Fleets
  • Ship Status
  • Port Status
  • Historical data (on previous routes, harbors, durations, etc.)
  • Marine event data

How is Marine Data Typically Collected?

Marine traffic data is mostly collected from more than 3,200 AIS aggregators in over 140 countries around the world that get the individual AIS signals directly from ships via a satellite or ground receivers.

From here onwards, the raw data is further processed by various data platforms to clean up the data and provide raw access through APIs. AIS message packets are encoded in NMEA sentences (64-bit plain text) as this sample below shows:

> [[!AIVDM,1,1,,B,1INS<[email protected],0*38 <

Although AIS data is by far the largest and most important source of the marine traffic data, it misses out on all kinds of smaller ships typically used by fishing companies. For these sea traffic types, governments use a tracking system (VMS data) to create more visibility on that front as well. It can be sourced directly from many governments.

Some marine data portals powered by governments include EMODnet, SeaDataNet, MESH, MEDIN, CEFAS WaveNet, and others.

How to Assess the Quality of Marine Data?

While obtaining marine data is not a tough task in itself, what is difficult is ensuring the quality of the collected data. Most reliable marine data providers are now implementing real-time quality control on incoming data.

There are various organizations that have underlined the guidelines that must be followed. For scalar data, for instance, data providers are required to meet the guidelines set by the Quality Assurance of Real Time Oceanographic Data (QARTOF) group which is a US organization that helps in identifying issues in incoming real-time data.

Thus, while buying marine data, the best way to assess its quality is to ask the vendor about the guidelines that they follow. Are they associated with a particular group which quality checks their data in real-time?
Additionally, you must also ask if they stick to any quality requirements in-house. For instance, various data vendors make use of automated real-time quality tests. While there are others who verify or calibrate a sensor before deployment.

How Marine Data is typically priced?

In most cases, a basic API can be accessed for free and more advanced data points, functions, and features are available subject to a one-time or license fee.

Core pricing criteria is based on the API data service level agreement and frequency of calls (# of calls per day / real-time), the number of vessels to be monitored, and the amount of information needed for a vessel.
Historical data sets are also most commonly subjective to a commercial engagement with a marine data vendor. Data from satellite AIS sources typically cost more than those collected by AIS land-based stations.

What is the Biggest Challenge When Buying Marine Data?

One of the challenges that you will likely experience when buying marine data is the accurate assessment of the data quality.
Essentially, since marine data is witnessing explosive growth, an added challenge is how to collect data fast, reliably, and sustainably, and deliver it in a hostile marine environment to the intended parties after collection.

What to Ask a Marine Data Provider?

  • How many AIS signals to you receive during a day?
  • What’s the update frequency provided?
  • Do you include VMS or VIIRS data?
  • what satellite systems are used to build the data sets?
  • Since when do you collect your data in today’s format?
  • What additional software and services do you offer?
  • How is the data visualized?
  • How long is the testing period & what does it cost?

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