Artificial Intelligence in Maritime Security

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Artificial intelligence marks the next step in the evolution of things in this data-driven world. It is seeping into our lives in all sorts of ways. The stakeholders at all levels, from private players to governmental organisations across different spectrums, use AI in every other aspect. AI refers to the building of smart machines that are capable of simulating human intelligence. 

With artificial Intelligence transforming the way industries across various realms work, it is also creating new prospects in the maritime sector. The maritime sector is considered the backbone of international trade, making it crucial to strengthen maritime security systems. The article looks into some aspects of using AI in maritime security, how AI transformed the maritime industry and its challenges moving forward.

These autonomous navigation boats of the US Navy can operate autonomously or by remote.

How has artificial intelligence transformed the maritime industry?

Traditionally, maritime security relied heavily on people and their experiences. However, with the world gravitating toward advanced technology, there is a shift afoot. Artificial intelligence plays a crucial role in defending maritime borders and enhancing naval forces’ capabilities. Therefore, AI-powered security systems are the future in the maritime domain. AI can be capable of using computer algorithms which possess the ability to learn from examples and experiences and impersonate them in reality. Further, these information systems help in mitigating problems faced in maritime security.

The core aspect that AI transformed in the maritime sector is that it bolsters the ability of surveillance and intelligence gathering. It makes use of AI-based systems for tracking, identifying and executing the actions. Further, this enhanced maritime capabilities because, traditionally, ocean routes are challenging to navigate. 

Maritime security is crucial in a complex interconnected world where there is a plethora of threats coming from all directions. In this spirit, depending entirely on human input might not be sufficient. So the role of AI-based systems becomes crucial. It can learn from the inputs it receives from its surroundings and from various situations through algorithms incorporated into its information systems. Thus, this way, AI has the capacity to alter the traditional systems of maritime security.

Artificial intelligence and maritime security concerns

Maritime security will be part of every nation’s national security and foreign policy due to its high importance. It is even crucial in the case of countries with coastlines. According to the report given by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), 80% of the total volume of trade and 70% of the trade by worth are attributed to the sea routes. Nevertheless, shipping is the most vulnerable to various challenges. The security concerns for the maritime industry range from piracy, human and drug trafficking, robbery, terrorism, and smuggling to environmental catastrophe. 

A significant proportion of world trade still depends on transportation by sea.

Oceans are considered an easy location for human trafficking due to their isolation. Here, vulnerable workers are easily abducted and induced into forced labour. Thus, facing inhumane conditions like overwork with minimum or no pay. Illegal fishing and oil spills both cause environmental implications. The physical maritime presence or traditional measures are inadequate to contain these implications. Here comes artificial intelligence as an essential tool increasingly used to secure oceans. 

The data-driven world is coming up with smart solutions for every predicament. One such highly used technological solution to address piracy and robbery is the Automatic Identification System (AIS). AIS is a system used to locate vessels and ships’ positions using transponders, transceivers, and, recently, satellites. The International Maritime Organization (IMO)mandates every large ship and vessel to carry AIS through which satellites and ground stations receive information and pass it to naval authorities and other ships. This information helps in tracking ships and vessels even on far-fetched sea routes. 

The IMO has introduced Comprehensive Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA). MDA are programmes aiming to detect maritime issues and threats and develop solutions. AIS acts as the primary tool for MDA to gather information and uses it for law enforcement, capacity building and governance. 

How are AI models built in the maritime world?

AI service providers develop advanced AI technology based on gathering information from ships, data from ports, satellites, flag registries, and weather data and combined with AIS data. Based on this, data algorithms are developed and trained on behaviour analysis models for accurate and real-time results.

Machine learning and AI have brought significant advancements in maritime security.

Artificial intelligence and logistics in the maritime world

Logistics is another domain where AI is increasingly used these days. Automatic intelligence models are used vastly in the logistics sector ranging from cost reduction, fuel and route optimisation, and elimination of errors to real-time vehicle tracking. 

The AI algorithms are built based on wave frequency, temperatures, tides, winds, etc., providing real-time data. Route forecasting based on this data enables companies to optimise their routes. For example, such mechanisms could have avoided the enormous traffic jam in the Suez Canal caused by the ship ‘Ever Given’ in March 2021. Furthermore, shipping companies can use AI technology to change from linear to circular supply chain structures. This can reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions. 

A satellite image of the ship Ever Given stuck in the Suez canal
Image courtesy-BBC

Smart and automated vehicles are taking over the world, and it is also inevitable in the maritime world. Human errors are the most common cause of accidents in the ocean, which can be controlled with an autonomous ship control system. AI algorithms can support the automation of both ships and ports, reducing workforce demand and costs. It is also used in maritime law enforcement by helping nations understand the nature of seas and permitting them to make decisions based on the data. 

Challenges

The uses of AI in the maritime domain are very obvious. However, when one looks deeply, there are also challenges within the maritime sector with the employment of AI. One such element is the ethical and legal questions that deadly AI weapons bring along. Autonomous AI-based weapons are becoming prominent. This further leaves us with the question of whether the world can acknowledge such a level of autonomy. The target-based AI systems need to differentiate between civilian and military targets.

Another challenge includes the disruption of marine life. AI-based transmitters like SONAR are underwater information transmitters that might cause a potential threat to the sensory organs of species like sharks, whales etc. This can further damage their body or even lead to death. Furthermore, the underwater topography like the ridges, rocks, and trenches and the underwater activities like pipelines and optical fibre cables would disrupt the signals of AI information systems. Nevertheless, these aspects must be taken care of for better functioning.  

Underwater noise caused by submarine sonar can adversely affect marine life.

In addition, there is also a challenge of hijacking and piracy in autonomous ships as there would be no onboard crew to avert any piracy activities. Although autonomous ships work based on sensors connected with AI information systems, it becomes easier for pirates to destroy them, making them vulnerable to smuggling, trafficking and other illicit acts.

Conclusion

It is hard to ignore the potentiality of AI in the maritime domain. However, maritime AI work is underway, and some projects are still at the testing stage, but it has a long way to go. Moving forward, fully automated ships and the widespread application of AI systems may take some more time. Overall, the significance of AI remains crucial in the decades to come. This can help nations to deliver benefits in supply chain and shipping operations while simultaneously navigating and tracing the threats.

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Artificial Intelligence in the Indian Defence Sector

About the Author

Navya Chandrika

Navya has a keen interest in geopolitics, pursuing her master’s degree in International Relations from Pondicherry University; she has a penchant for research and looks forward to exploring domains like foreign policy, diplomacy, and national security, public policy, governance and climate change. She likes to engage in public discourses actively and is keen on collaborating with individuals and institutions of novel and diverse ideas. Navya believes in the ability of academic research to empower public opinion.

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