West Africa harbours ocean waters rich in pelagic and demersal species,[1] yet also intensely harvested. Many commercially significant stocks are either fully or overexploited, and vulnerable to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.[2] A significant proportion of industrial fishing activity is carried out by distant water fishing fleets, including those of the European Union, Russia, and China. Vessels belonging to these and other fleets have been associated with IUU fishing activities in the region, and documented cases may well be unrepresentative of the total number. Indeed, IUU fishing activities are often difficult to ascertain due to their secretive nature, and a lack of effective monitoring and surveillance capabilities in the region’s coastal States.[3] There is also a significant incidence of de-stabilising activities, particularly in certain areas of the Gulf of Guinea, including serious crimes such as piracy, armed robbery, and drug trafficking.[4] Fishing vessels can contribute to this de-stabilisation: IUU fishing has been shown to pose a threat, undermining the security of coastal States and their people, and exacerbating other security stressors.[5]

Transhipment and its association with IUU fishing and maritime crime

The complex relationship between the fishing industry and transnational maritime crime was highlighted in 2011 by UNODC, shedding light into the operational synergies that interconnect fishing operations, specially IUU fishing activities, and drugs trafficking and other forms of criminality.[6] The contribution that fishing vessels make towards drug trafficking globally has recently been estimated, suggesting that shipments on board of industrial fishing vessels average at 2.4 tonnes per seizure, with artisanal vessels averaging at circa 0.8 tonnes per seizure, but commanding higher prices. The stakes are high, and West Africa has been identified as one of the hotspots.[7]

Transhipment (nighttime). Image credit: Juan Vilata

Transhipment at sea gives vessels operational options, including the opportunity to relocate items away from the scrutiny of port authorities. Hence, transhipment is often an integral part of maritime crime.[8] Simply put, transhipment involves offloading cargo from one vessel to another. This can be fish, but also provisions or any other cargo, including crew. It is far from uncommon, especially in remote high seas, where it is particularly difficult to oversee. Significant investment in monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) is often necessary to ensure that unauthorised transhipment and other IUU fishing operations are identified.[9]

The complexity of MCS needs should not be underestimated. The capacity levels that are often required are exemplified by the recent collaborative programme between EFCA and the States of the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission (SRFC), through which a surveillance operation was undertaken. This involved not only VMS monitoring, but also the satellite and radar equipment of the European Copernicus service, as well as coordinate information exchange efforts of the national authorities of the SRFC member States.[10] Unfortunately, these special cooperation programmes are usually time-limited, and in routine scenarios national capabilities can and often do fall short of the technical capacity needed to address all IUU fishing activity successfully. Around the globe, countries concerned about their maritime security and the activation of their blue economies have invested in advanced satellite fisheries intelligence programmes.[11] Although States in West Africa are working towards increasing their capacity to fully implement effective MCS systems, they have not yet achieved the kind of MCS capacity that would enable them to control IUU fishing activities comprehensively and effectively.[12]

A game of smoke and mirrors

Although transhipment usually occurs between a fishing vessel and a refrigerated cargo vessel (often referred to as reefers), controls may be further complicated by the fact that other ships can also perform transhipment operations and other activities such as bunkering.[13] Of course, the non-compulsory nature of AIS, specially in waters where the presence of piracy and other violent crimes often justifies decisions to turn it off, means that effective monitoring via AIS alone can be very difficult. Nevertheless, erratic AIS readings can be indicative of activity that could form part of IUU operation patterns. For example, a vessel could disconnect AIS whilst moving toward safer waters where fishing vessels are known to be operating. It should be highlighted that such irregularities do not constitute evidence of wrongdoing per se, but they could be an indication of possible risk that an unauthorised transhipment is taking place. This is specially so in regions where IUU fishing transgressions involving transhipment are routinely documented.[14]

By way of example, recent research in the Indian Ocean has suggested that cases of unauthorised transhipment may be linked to bunkering activity. Though difficult to detect with conventional VMS and satellite automatic identification systems (AIS) controls, the researchers observed the presence of bunker vessels in the vicinity of fishing vessels and large factory trawlers, whose AIS signals suggested erratic behaviour, indicating the possibility of multiple re-supplying operations rather than fuelling.[15] Available AIS readings suggest that these scenarios are likely to be replicated in other regions, particularly in areas that continue to suffer from a high incidence of IUU fishing events, and where vessels able to perform bunkering as well as transhipment are present, such as West Africa.

Transhipment (daytime). Image credit: Juan Vilata

Recent research undertaken with satellite based AIS and satellite assisted radar in parts of the South East Atlantic managed by the Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), comprising both the EEZ of Ascension Island and surrounding high seas areas, unveiled behaviour indicative of possible unauthorised fishing and transhipment and/or bunkering or supply, particularly around the EEZ borders, and especially by long liners.[16] Further, ICCAT records also indicate that transhipments are engaged into without adequate supervision, and that they may well be avoid inspection because fish and other cargo transfers are often impossible to differentiate from bunkering and supply operations.[17]

Further, as already stated, unauthorised transhipment is often an enabler to transnational maritime crime. Enquiry into the free online facility www.spyglass.fish reveals that drug trafficking offences have been documented in the West African region, both across the high seas and the EEZs of a number of States, all occurring alongside a very high volume of unauthorised fishing activity across the region. These overlaps, coupled with unusual or unexplained AIS readings, suggest an operational risk profile that warrants significant control and monitoring effort, as well as the adoption of surveillance mechanisms to safeguard compliance.

The ICCAT management area. Image credit: ICCAT

Responsibilities of States with regard to transhipment

Under UNCLOS Part V, coastal States must ensure that fishing activities in their EEZ are appropriately managed (especially important are Articles 61 to 64 in this regard). As ITLOS highlighted in paragraph 113 of its Advisory Opinion, member States of the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission must ensure that transhipments occur in specially designated harbours, amongst other requirements.

The responsibilities of flag States in the EEZ of coastal States were also discussed in detail by the ITLOS in its Advisory Opinion. In paragraph 114, ITLOS indicated that flag States must ensure compliance with the laws and regulations of the coastal States in which their vessels operate – this is of course not an optional matter or a courtesy: when it comes to fishing activities in the EEZs of coastal States, flag States have specific obligations under Articles 58.3 [“States shall have due regard to the rights and duties of the coastal State and shall comply with the laws and regulations adopted by the coastal State in accordance with the provisions of this Convention and other rules of international law (…)”] and 62.4 [“Nationals of other States fishing in the exclusive economic zone shall comply with the conservation measures and with the other terms and conditions established in the laws and regulations of the coastal State (…)”].[18]

Transhipment in West Africa. Image Credit: Richard White, Lindblad Expeditions

In addition, flag States have general obligations – see in particular UNCLOS Articles 94 concerning the exercise of effective jurisdiction and control over fishing vessels in the high seas, and Article 192 regarding the obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment in all ocean areas.[19] These responsibilities are refined and complemented by obligations established in other important international instruments.[20] Further, regional agreements frequently impose additional and often very specific duties. In the West African fishing grounds of the Atlantic the measures adopted by ICCAT should be complied with, so that the fishing and transhipment activities occurring in the area can be appropriately monitored.[21] Under ICCAT rules, only vessels that have been authorised to engage in transhipment can receive fishing products from fishing vessels lawfully operating in the regulated area.

Yet, ICCAT rules on the monitoring of transhipment is widely regarded as insufficient. In particular, whereas purse seiners carry 100% observer coverage when operating in the ICCAT area, long-liners are subjected to little scrutiny by comparison.[22] The ICCAT member States had an opportunity but failed to enhance their approach to monitoring in their latest (2019) meeting of the parties.[23] This has occurred against a backdrop in which historical VMS data is contributed to ICCAT by the relevant vessels’ flag States, but has been acknowledged as difficult to navigate and process in order to clarify compliance.[24]

Such voids in ensuring appropriate monitoring of transhipment, a high-risk operation for the purposes of IUU fishing and maritime crime, leaves significant opportunities for wrongdoing, particularly in an area where satellite MCS approaches are still in development and the EEZs of coastal states are vulnerable to unauthorised intrusion. This void in monitoring requirements also perpetuates a discrepancy in fishery conduct standards across different vessel types that is difficult to justify in an international decision-making forum with important management competences. Indeed, RFMOs such as ICCAT are key fora where States bring into effect their international obligation to cooperate in matters of conservation and management of transnational fish stocks. International cooperation is a responsibility that is not satisfied simply by ticking a box for attendance to meetings, but also requires a conduct that makes negotiation and ensuing decision-making meaningful.[25] Indeed, this is what to a great extent furnishes the regulatory output of RFMOs with an authoritative force, especially when it comes to considerations involving the characterisation of activities as IUU fishing, including the activities of non-members. Needless to say, this authoritative strength should not be undermined by maintaining necessary controls weak – least of all by the members themselves.

Republished with the kind permission of the author Dr. Mercedes Rosello July 2020  

The author would like to thank Dr. Dirk Siebels and Dr. Ife Sinachi Okafor-Yarwood for the provision of valuable information for the elaboration of this blog, as well as Dr. Dyhia Belhabib for facilitating free data via the Spyglass online platform, and Juan Vilata for access to photographic material. Any errors contained in this blog post are the author’s alone.

[1] J Alder, and UR Sumaila, ‘Western Africa; A Fish Basket of Europe Past and Present’ (2004) 13(2) The Journal of Environment & Development 156-178, 160.

[2] D Belhabib, UR Sumaila, and P Le Billon, ‘The fisheries of Africa: Exploitation, policy, and maritime security trends’ (2019) 101 Marine Policy 80-92, 81.

[3] I Okafor-Yarwood, and D Belhabib, ‘The duplicity of the European Union Common Fisheries Policy in third countries: Evidence from the Gulf of Guinea’ (2020) 184 Ocean and Coastal Management 1-11, 2.

[4] D Belhabib et al, page 86. See also D Siebels, ‘Pirates, smugglers and corrupt officials – maritime security in East and West Africa’ (2020) 1(1) International Journal of Maritime Crime & Security 34-49.

[5] I Okafor-Yarwood, ‘The cyclical nature of maritime security threats: illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing as a threat to human and national security in the Gulf of Guinea’ (2020) 13(2) African Security 116-146, 122.

[6] E De Coning, ‘Transnational Organized Crime in the Fishing Industry’ (UNODC, 2011).

[7] D Belhabib, P Le Billon, and DJ Wrathall, ‘Narco-Fish: Global fisheries and drug trafficking’ (2020) Fish and Fisheries, 1-16, 6.

[8] See I Chapsos, and S Hamilton, ‘Illegal fishing and fisheries crime as a transnational organized crime in Indonesia’ (2018) 22 Trends in Organized Crime 255-273.

[9] For more information on transhipment activities, see NA Miller et al, ‘Global Patterns of Transshipment Behavior’ (2018) Frontiers in Marine Science 240.

[10] See https://www.efca.europa.eu/en/content/pressroom/sub-regional-fisheries-commission-srfc-efca-and-france-fight-against-illegal.

[11] See for example https://www.verumar.com

[12] Comfahat-Atlafco, ‘Workshop on Monitoring, Control and Surveillance: and effective tool to fight against IUU fishing’ (2015) 4.

[13] See for example: https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:5260334/mmsi:538007413/imo:9766281/vessel:LAETITIA_V

[14] See https://wnwd.com/blog/something-smells-fishy/.

[15] JH Ford, B Bergseth, and C Wilcox, ‘Chasing the fish oil – Do bunker vessels hold the key to fisheries crime networks?’ (2018) Frontiers in Marine Science https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2018.00267.

[16] G Rowlands et al, ‘Satellite surveillance of fishing vessel activity in the Ascension Island

[17] ICCAT, Doc. No. COC-312/2019.

[18] ITLOS in Paragraph 111 of its Advisory Opinion refers broadly to ‘nationals’ rather than just vessels registered to the flag State [‘Advisory Opinion’].

[19] See Advisory Opinion from paragraphs 117 to 124, and 136.

[20] In particular, the UN Fish Stocks Agreement is a treaty of profound significance for the management of highly migratory and straddling species that occur partially in the EEZ.

[21] See http://www.fao.org/fishery/rfb/iccat/en#Org-Mission.

[22] See: https://iss-foundation.org/iccat-moves-to-protect-atlantic-bigeye-and-close-gaps-in-monitoring-and-data-collection/.

[23] See https://www.globaltunaalliance.com/general/the-global-tuna-alliance-considers-the-outcomes-from-iccat-26th-november-2019/

[24] See M Ortiz, A Justel-Rubio, and A Parrilla, ‘Preliminary Analyses of the ICCAT VMS Data 2010-2011 to Identify Fishing Trip Behavior and Estimate Fishing Effort’ (2013) 69(1) Collect. Vol. Sci. Pap. ICCAT 462-481.

[25] M Hayashi, ‘The Management of Transboundary Fish Stocks under the LOS Convention’ (1993) 8(2) International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law 245-262, 252.

The Nippon Foundation – GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project launches study on the value of seabed mapping.

Our relationship with the seas and oceans is evolving rapidly. We have long understood the importance of protecting marine ecosystems. More recently, science has broadened our understanding of the important role the oceans play in regulating the Earth’s climate. The shape of the seabed is a crucial parameter for understanding ocean circulation patterns that distribute heat between the tropics and poles. Bathymetry data also supports detailed assessments of future sea-level rise, as well as tsunami and storm surge modelling to provide the basis for actions to protect coastal communities.

Now, many coastal states are beginning to apply in-depth analysis of how all marine and maritime interests can come together. Integrated ecologically sustainable plans to develop and maximise each nation’s Blue Economy – both to protect and benefit from their marine resources – are emerging at pace. That should come as no surprise when, globally, it’s estimated that the Blue Economy will be worth more than £2.3 trillion by 2030, supporting 40 million jobs. As well as quantifying traditionally important marine industries such as maritime transport and tourism, the key Blue Economy report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) highlights offshore wind, fish processing, industrial marine aquaculture, port activities and industrial capture fisheries as the top five growth sectors.

At the top of that list, offshore renewable energy is hurtling from promising concept to a core element of many nations’ integrated energy planning. While, at present, over 80% of all offshore wind installations are located in the waters off the coasts of 11 European countries, more detailed plans are emerging across the globe.

While Japan only had a relatively small installed offshore wind power capacity of 66MW by the end of 2019, many more projects are also in the pipeline. In February 2020, plans were revealed to construct 33 new turbines in offshore wind farms at the Akita and Noshiro ports in the Akita prefecture. Japan’s high population density and topography present challenges for land-based renewable initiatives, but it does have a lot of coastline, which allows offshore wind farm projects to be significantly bigger than those that can be built onshore. Last year, the International Energy Agency commented that by 2040 offshore wind power alone has the potential to meet Japan’s total power demand nine-fold.

New horizons

To achieve such progress, the next frontier for the Japanese wind farm sector – as with all nations – will be to push further offshore. As much as 80% of the of the total potential for offshore wind power is estimated to be in deep waters, where winds are much more forceful. Japan is surrounded by deep seabeds, so has the potential to add significantly to the five floating turbines they currently possess. With the floating wind farm sector predicted to be worth £32bn by 2030, the race is on.

Other nations will be watching progress keenly. Indonesia’s electricity needs are predicted to grow by 7% annually until 2027, and its government has committed to providing 23% of all electricity generation from renewable sources by 2025 (from under 6% in 2015). Until now, offshore wind energy has not played a large part in Indonesia’s total renewable energy goals as its application is considered too expensive in the deep waters of the Indian Ocean. Floating wind has the potential to change that view – of great interest as the country boasts the third largest coastline and sixth largest Exclusive Economic Zone in the world.

At the macro level, the challenge for coastal nations is to align seemingly disparate marine and maritime sectors into a coherent and measurable whole. At the start of June, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for the first time quantified the total value of America’s marine economy. Including goods and services, it was estimated that America’s oceans and Great Lakes contributed approximately $373 billion to the nation’s gross domestic product in 2018 – thus growing faster than the nation’s economy as a whole. Aligned to this potential, the U.S. has committed to map its entire EEZ (the second largest in the world), aiming to map its deep waters by 2030 and nearshore waters by 2040.

Over in Asia, Bangladesh has recently established a forward-thinking Blue Economy Cell (BEC) to co-ordinate relevant activities across sectoral ministries. The country has a coastline 710km long and boasts 1.1 million square kilometres of Exclusive Economic Zone in the Bay of Bengal. Economists predict that the sustainable utilisation of these marine resources could enable an additional £1.12 billion in revenues annually. Such a return would help to propel Bangladesh from lower-middle-income country to middle-income status, as defined by the World Bank. The BEC has identified 29 relevant sectors – from cruise and coastal tourism to fisheries – providing a crucial platform for further cross-sector analysis and activity.

Planning for success

Such complexity is repeated across the world’s seaspaces, which are becoming increasingly congested. Modern, forward-looking marine spatial planning needs to factor in shipping lanes, fisheries, aquaculture, Marine Protected Areas, coastal tourism, the protection of marine cultural heritage and the roll-out of fibreoptic cables to feed a data-hungry world. Many factors will affect these sectors’ ability to plan ahead, but there’s no doubt that what they all need in order to establish planning certainty is an accurate, up-to-date map of the seabed, obtained using modern survey methods. Marine geospatial data is the cornerstone of the Blue Economy.

Some waters are relatively well charted; other nations are not so lucky, so are at an instant disadvantage in their ability to understand and sustainably manage their natural marine resource. Over 80% of the World Ocean remains unmapped with modern high-resolution map­ping technology.

The Nippon Foundation – GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project (Seabed 2030) was established to revolutionise the world’s understanding of the ocean floor. We want to catalyse policy decisions, sustainable actions and scientific research informed by detailed bathymetric information.

The project was launched officially by the Chairman of The Nippon Foundation at the UN Ocean Conference in 2017, with operational activity commencing in 2018. In time terms, therefore, we are now nearly a quarter of the way through our 13-year challenge of mapping the world’s seafloor by 2030. We have been hugely encouraged by the support we have received to date from the marine geospatial community. Advice, support and enthusiastic encouragement has been gratefully received. Donations of huge amounts of bathymetry data from commercial marine survey companies and marine institutes has been hugely welcome. The rapid establishment of one Global and four Regional Data Centres has strengthened co-ordination and collaboration potential.

With this infrastructure in place, it’s now time to really put the “Wind in the Sails” of our mission, and power towards producing the definitive, high res­olution bathymetric map of the entire ocean by the year 2030.

Innovation in action

Thankfully, all sections of the marine data collection sphere are bursting with amazing examples of innovation. Incredibly versatile autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and autonomous surface vehicles (ASVs) are collecting digital data at depths and rates considered impossible even five years ago. Such seabed innovation is matched in the skies; satellites are now able to provide bathymetry quickly and cost-effectively in coastal areas with the right environmental conditions. The proliferation of data collection rates is only worthwhile, though, if useful analysis can be applied. Fortunately, developments in machine learning make it possible to process and analyse volumes of data that far outstrip any potential human endeavours.

However, in order to prioritise the appropriate utilisation of these technologies, as a community we need to challenge ourselves to develop a coherent, evidence-based analysis of the value of such endeavours.

A body of evidence already exists that supports the relationship between ocean floor shape and the processes and issues that are touched on above. That said, while much of this is open source, it is not all in one place. We started the Seabed 2030 project with a strong commitment to avoid duplication and instead work towards fostering a close collaboration for the most efficient use of global resources. In that spirit, we are launching a short piece of work with Blue Economy solutions company NLA International to start to gather this evidence together.

The more data we acquire about the details of seabed shape, the more we recognize that the ocean and its floor are more dynamic than we ever thought. By cataloguing models used to help quantify the environmental, social and economic values and benefits of seabed mapping, we will be in a much better position to articulate the areas in greatest need of being surveyed – and, crucially, why government, industry, academia and philanthropy should support such activity.

To contribute to the survey, please click here.

By Jamie McMichael-Phillips
Director, The Nippon Foundation – GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project

Webinar to discuss MarRINav project results

In 2018 the first-ever European Radionavigation Plan said “It is recognised that [..] GNSS should not be the sole source of PNT information. Alternative PNT systems, not necessarily using radio frequencies, should thus be put in place where the criticality of the application requires it.”One of the first fruits of this is the ESA-funded Maritime Resilience and Integrity of Navigation project, or MarRINav, recently completed by researchers in the United Kingdom.In 2019 the European Space Agency (ESA) published a permanent open call for proposals for positioning, navigation, and timing studies and systems, including those that had nothing to do with space.

“Maritime navigation and port operations are critical for almost every nation,” said Jonathan Turner, one of the MarRINav project team. “As an island nation with a strong maritime heritage, we in the United Kingdom perhaps have an even greater appreciation of this.” Turner is co-founder of the Blue Economy solutions company NLA International, which led a team of eight organisations cooperating on the project.

While MarRINav focused its analysis on the United Kingdom, the intent was to provide information, and an analysis framework, that could also be used by other nations.

Maritime is one of sectors most dependent upon Global Navigation Satellite Systems, according to the project reports, and one of the ones with the greatest awareness of GNSS vulnerabilities and their consequences. MarRINav concludes that integrity and resilience are two of the most important parameters for maritime navigation.

Maritime is also one of the sectors most ready to integrate space and terrestrial navigation systems, according to the report’s authors. The International Maritime Organization has already introduced a performance standard for a multi-system receiver, or MSR, that will incorporate a wide variety of navigation signals.

Despite the distractions of Brexit over the last four years, the United Kingdom has been particularly focused on its vulnerability to GNSS outages.

2017 London Economics report concluded that a five day GNSS outage would cost the nation at least $1.3B per day. It cited eLoran and Satelles as likely parts of the solution. The Government Office for Science released a Blackett Review of critical dependencies on GNSS in 2018.

In February of this year the UK government announced it was establishing a virtual National Timing Centre to protect the nation from the risk of GNSS failure, and in March the final MarRINav report was published.

Among the project’s findings are that:

  • The United Kingdom needs a comprehensive maritime PNT architecture with multiple, diverse sources to ensure continuity of maritime operations
  • Such a “hybrid solution” could benefit other sectors, especially if non-maritime needs were considered early in the design
  • New PNT systems should be terrestrial and sovereign
  • Establishing such a system for the UK has a very positive benefit to cost ratio
  • Important aspects of the new architecture are E-GNSS (Galileo and EGNOS), Enhanced Loran (eLoran) and the Ranging Mode (R-Mode) of the VHF Data Exchange System (VDES), and complemented by the development of a specific Maritime Receiver Autonomous Integrity Monitoring (M-RAIM) algorithm.
  • LOCATA or a similar local positioning system should be implemented at UK ports to provide a backup for container operations.
  • Satelles Satellite Time and Location may have potential, but its utility has yet to be demonstrated for maritime.

The Royal Institute of Navigation and the Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation are partnering to present a Webinar about MarRINav on the 25th of June. Register here for “When GNSS Fails, What Will You Do? – MarRINav!”

All the MarRINav project reports are available.

As a voluntary association of 54 independent and equal sovereign states the Commonwealth includes nations around the globe. Over 30 of those states are small nations, many of them islands. With Commonwealth countries responsible for more than a third of the world’s coastal ocean and 45 percent of its coral reefs it is little wonder that developing a new tool to map coral is an area of focus.

The Commonwealth Secretariat is joining forces with Vulcan Inc. to help member countries manage their ocean spaces via cutting-edge mapping technology. The new tool will use satellite technology to create country-specific data and generate high-resolution images to help map, manage and monitor coral reefs in the Commonwealth.

Announcing the initiative in time for World Reef Awareness Day, 1 June, Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said: “The threats confronting our ocean are numerous and can be perceived by governments as overwhelming, with 90 percent of coral reefs at risk of disappearing within the next few decades due to climate change.

“That is why Commonwealth leaders launched the Commonwealth Blue Charter in 2018, which is a shared commitment from all 54 member countries to tackle urgent ocean issues together. Our partnership with Vulcan Inc, as well as others in the private sector, academia and science networks, will work to translate our vision into meaningful on-the-water actions.”

Coral reef 620.jpg

Building on the technology behind Vulcan’s Allen Coral Atlas – a public platform that converts data from a range of sources to generate detailed maps, images and alerts on coral reefs – a dynamic interactive coral reef map will be hosted online on the Commonwealth Innovation Hub. The information it contains will support marine ecosystem planning, management, governance and community action in member countries.

Chuck Cooper, Managing Director of Government and Community Relations at Vulcan said: “We have already lost 50 per cent of the world’s coral reefs which support the safety, well-being, and economic security of hundreds of millions of people. The Allen Coral Atlas is helping to provide foundational data which inform critically important conservation efforts. Working with Commonwealth countries, we can change the trajectory of the coral reef crisis.”

The joint project will be unveiled with a special virtual presentation on World Oceans Day, 8 June. 

This event, titled ‘Mapping the Commonwealth one coral reef at a time,’ will also feature presentations from three Blue Charter Action groups, focusing on: Coral Reef Protection and Restoration, Ocean and Climate Change, and Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihoods.

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is implemented by 10 country-driven action groups that share experiences and coordinate action to tackle ocean challenges. The presentations will highlight how the groups work together and the importance of accurate and live data to support management decisions.

Click here to complete your free registration to attend the event

For centuries, mariners have utilised myriad assets to navigate the world’s seas and oceans safely. Compasses, radar, echo sounders, Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers, signals, the ship’s whistle and the very skies above have all been used to navigate weather, geography and human factors to ensure safe passage.


Back in 2017 a concerned captain in the Black Sea faced a curious, but no longer, unusual problem. His navigation systems erroneously reported that he was 25 nautical miles away from his actual location. Thankfully, this potentially ruinous issue wasn’t exactly difficult to spot as the bridge equipment was attempting to convince the captain that he was actually at a land-based location near to Gelendyhik airport in Russia.


A simple case of faulty equipment? Not quite. It eventually became known that a further 20 vessels in the locale were receiving the same confusing information. As they would have used different GPS equipment, how could they all be witnessing the same anomalies?


The highly respected U.S non-profit the Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation subsequently worked with maritime data and analytics company Windward Ltd. to explore the issue in greater depth. They diagnosed that the incident related to the intentional ‘spoofing’ of the GPS signal – someone had purposefully interfered with it to cause the system to provide incorrect location information.


Subsequent research in April 2019 by the Centre for Advanced Defense (C4AD) further underlined the prevalence of such disruptions, suggesting that 1,311 civilian ships had been affected in ten locations over the study period, with 9,883 individual incidents reported or detected, the majority of which took place in Crimea, the Black Sea, Syria and Russia.


Such possibilities present a severe threat to a system that is essential to seafarers of all types. Novel threats require novel approaches – so what to do to bring about new levels of systems-level resilience in marine navigation?


In January 2019 we began the MarRINav project, funded by the European Space Agency, we wanted to address the issues highlighted by previous work from the General Lighthouse Authorities of the United Kingdom and Ireland (GLA) and in documents such as the UK Government’s Blackett Report on GNSS Vulnerabilities and the London Economics report on UK economic impact of the loss of the GNSS. Our goal was to understand the position, navigation and timing needs of maritime operators, consider and analyse how current infrastructure met those needs and propose a credible solution to address any gaps in resilience or integrity.


From the earlier studies there were clear indications that many factors, including and in addition to spoofing, could have a substantial impact on many facets of life in the UK. A five day outage of GNSS in the UK could have an economic impact of as much as £5Bn with around 20% of that being directly related to maritime endeavours. Such figures are hardly surprising when you consider that 95% of goods are transported by sea and that some of the world’s busiest shipping routes pass through UK waters. Of course, shipping is just one slice of the maritime pie. The UK has seen an offshore wind generation capacity increase by a factor of eight over the past 10 years. Then there are considerations of the growth in aquaculture not to mention the appetite to explore and exploit the potential for autonomous vessels. UK sea space is busier than ever before and on a trend that shows increasing levels of traffic density, complexity and challenge.


The case for an in-depth review was clear, the MarRINav consortium was assembled and embarked on a journey of research and discovery that has revealed and documented a wealth of insights.


The first deliverable which qualified the maritime user need frames the whole project by describing the levels of accuracy, resilience and integrity that were required by a host of end users across a broad spectrum of marine, maritime and blue economy stakeholders.


Richard Greaves, MarRINav Project Director for NLA International commented: “As the UK EEZ gets busier and marine traffic relies more and more on technology, it’s essential that technology is itself reliable and failure risks are mitigated. Maritime operators must have confidence that their vessels are exactly where they think they are, and when. The MarRINav project has brought together experts from different disciplines and recommends an economic system-of-systems that will give them that confidence.”


Those maritime operator’s needs were analysed against current PNT infrastructure to assess and understand where there were opportunities to improve resilience and integrity. Deliverables two and three describe this work and the gaps and challenges that the current PNT infrastructure create across the maritime domain. This guided the project team thinking towards the technologies that could be applied, to varying degrees of success, in addressing those challenges. Deliverable four captured these technologies which, not limited to space based solutions, incorporated ship based systems, regional and wide area systems. Through this analysis it became clear that there was no silver bullet in a single system and that a system of systems would be required to best address all the challenges.


A conceptual architecture was produced within deliverable five with the integration of that architecture and an outline development plan to complement it in deliverables six and seven. This proposed solution was assessed by a cost benefit analysis which demonstrates a substantial and positive benefit to cost ratio, captured in deliverable eight.


The MarRINav project deals with both a complex and highly variable operating environment as well as a complex set of technologies, underpinned by rigorous scientific and mathematical analysis. To highlight the key points from the project and to make the outcomes accessible to widest possible audience deliverable nine along with several summary documents have also been produced.


All of the above deliverables and reports are available to view and download from the MarRINav website. 


The results in the MarRINav reports are now made publicly available and whilst they will inform a wide range of stakeholders, including UK Government, Deputy National Security Adviser, Department for Transport and the UK Space Agency, as well as the European Space Agency we also hope they will be a useful resource.


The MarRINav team will now move forwards to phase two of the project and test the viability of the solutions that have been proposed through the development and implementation of a testing and validation phase.

The combined exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of African nations exceed 13.5 million square kilometres. Many African nations have an EEZ that far greater than that nation’s land area. Within those waters are some of the richest fisheries in the World. Beneath those waters lay oil, gas and mineral reserves, many yet to be fully measured let alone explored. Many African nations are justifiably proud of the beauty of their marine environments and the precious nature of their marine ecosystems. There is no doubt that such a vast ocean space offers substantial Blue Economy Potential.

With OECD predictions suggesting the Blue Economies of the world will be valued at USD 3Trillion by 2030 it is essential that Africa seizes the moment and forges a path to realise its ocean wealth.

The International Forum of Seafarers was held in Dakhla, on 23 and 24 November 2019 to consider these macro opportunities.

The event, convened by ACCI and partners, including NLA International, brought together 27 nations and their perspectives on the Blue Economy. This event, envisaged as being the first of many, provided a focal point for the nations of Africa as they explored and capitalized upon the opportunities presented by their ocean wealth.

As well as containing the recommendations from the forum the report (available to download in English and French Rapport Forum Dakhla 2019 French Version  Report Forum Dakhla 2019 English Version) provides an overview of the forum and conveys the nature of the event providing a document to spread the messages and enthusiasm that generated with a view to creating a specific framework for the establishment of the African Annual Summit on the Blue Economy.

Blue Economy Africa

Main Stage – International Forum of Seafarers


“I to the world am like a drop of water

That in the ocean seeks another drop.”


So laments Antipholus of Syracuse in William Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, betraying his thoughts that he will never again reconnect with his lost mother and twin.


The allure of the seas and oceans have similarly provided the lyrical backdrop for untold stories and heartfelt expressions of loss, love and joy over the centuries. Such storytelling techniques were only enhanced with the arrival of photography and then the recorded moving image in recent decades, with beautiful, compelling marine videos aligned to everything from environmental campaigns to selling aftershave.


At NLA International we are most interested in the use of such techniques to draw attention to urgent issues within the Blue Economy, which is why we are keen to share news of a soon-to-be-released ocean-themed climate change film produced by a dedicated group of passionate students.


Tuvalu is what we like to call a large ocean nation (sometimes referred to as a Small Island Developing State or SID) in the South Pacific. This British Commonwealth country, with a population of just over 11,000 people is experiencing the impact of climate change in so many ways. Of course, issues such as sea level rises and plastic waste aren’t unique to Tuvalu but their approach to sharing their story with the world is certainly very special.


Back in February 2019 we shared an article on our website ‘Tuvalu – Telling their story their way’ that described the intention to make a film about the impacts of climate change on this island nation.


Guided by a team of film-making students from Loyola University Chicago, young people of Tuvalu were empowered to tell their story using video. This is not an external perspective on the island’s story, but very much the people of Tuvalu’s perspective; that gives a depth of integrity and insight that no external film crew could ever achieve alone.


We have been very privileged to receive unedited extracts that reveal the most poignant and personal insights around the impact of sea level rises and climate change. It is obvious that the filming, which took place in Summer 2019, was a complete success. Watching these vignettes leaves one in no doubt that climate change is eroding cultures, societies and families, not just the land. You are also left charged by the will of the local community to rise to the challenges they face. “Tuvalu is my home; I will not give it up without a fight,”, as one young person memorably puts it.


It is a credit to the team of young people from Tuvalu and Loyola University that this story can be told in such an engaging and personal way.  Project leader, Professor John Goheen, Senior Professional In Residence at Loyola’s School of Communication, commented: “I am blown away, not only by the storytelling, but by the level of production value that was achieved in such a short time with a group of people who had never held a camera before.

“We worked with 16 young people ages 17 to 29. They were so into this project and worked so hard. It’s obvious by the outcomes. The film is truly unique both in how it was made and how it is produced.”


As we explored recently in one chapter of our book, Technology and the Blue Economy, programmes such as Sir Richard Attenborough’s Blue Planet (BBC) have had a transformative effect on people’s understanding of the challenges facing both marine ecosystems and related ocean communities. They also have the potential to draw concerned viewers into environmental campaigning, activism and to contribute to citizen science projects related to the ocean. We hope the Tuvalu project will act as a similarly powerful call-to-action.


The final part of the project is to prepare the film for distribution, with the hope that it will reach mainstream viewing and allow the story of Tuvalu to be told the way the people of Tuvalu would want. The project team are seeking sponsorship to fund these final elements. If you would like to engage with them, learn more or explore how you could sponsor their work please contact Professor Goheen at .


We are looking forward to seeing the completed film and will provide further updates on www.NLAI.blue. As Antipholus of Syracuse comments later in The Comedy of Errors:


“There’s a time for all things.”


For the young people driving this project, their time is now. And not a moment too soon. We wish them the greatest success.


The Blue Economy refers to economic activities related to oceans, seas and coasts. Crucially sustainability is at its core. It is an emerging concept which encourages better stewardship of our ocean or ‘blue’ resources. FrontM has partnered with one of UK’s leading Blue Economy consultancies, NLA International to develop Blue Economy Messenger (BeM), a communications platform to meet a number of needs of the fishing industry.

Mercedes Rosello, Associate Director of NLAI, walks us through the concept of the Blue Economy, the key areas of advancements in the marine industry and how BeM is bringing a change in the way fisheries communicate, collect data and adhere to regulatory compliance.


What challenges is NLAI looking to solve?
We are here to help the environment and promote cleaner, more productive and healthier oceans. If the ocean is healthier then it’s for the benefit of people, especially those who most depend on marine resources. We want to create a balance – helping countries and communities work in harmony with the sea but also helping them become more productive and more sustainable in their business approaches.

With offices in the UK, Ireland and Malaysia we look at the Blue Economy in a holistic way. We don’t just work in individual sectors like fisheries or engineering – we try to take a 360-degree approach to address problems that concern the marine environment.


What are the key areas associated with Blue Economy?
There are several key areas associated with improving the sustainability of the Blue Economy. One is sustainable seafood production via aquaculture and fisheries, and another is prevention and removal of marine pollution. In addition, there is also an urgent need to protect the ocean form the effects of climate change. These problems are longstanding and very difficult to address effectively. They require considerable amount of cooperation and innovation in terms of technology and policy.

There has been a huge increase in initiatives for research and investment into innovative approaches to sustain the Blue Economy both in terms of developing technology and improving law and policy frameworks and sustainable institutional and trade practices in recent years. We as a company identify opportunities to support and optimise those processes, and work with and for the benefit of concerned stakeholders.


What are some of the key trends and challenges in this industry?
In aquaculture we have developed research and monitoring processes to help the industry to create optimum conditions for the health and productivity of farmed fish. This involves scientific expertise, but also the application of innovative technological approaches. The other area I’m seeing development is in the fisheries sector, with leading actors keen to become more efficient, but also more selective, more transparent, cleaner, and more sustainable.

I see technology making significant advancements in these two areas to produce the required results – to be less wasteful and leave a smaller environmental footprint whilst at the same time being more cost effective. Better supported and informed operational practices can enhance and improve the way in which Blue Economy participants such as fishermen work.


How the addition of technology and connectivity adding value to fisheries?
The fishing industry has many dimensions, but in general it is an intensely competitive sector, and technology can facilitate leaner and more adaptable ways of managing operations and communications on fleets. In particular, it can provide enhanced communications support in remote areas where the internet connection is not good.

Connectivity can address day-to-day problems by improving the ability to communicate with people on land, as well as across vessels and fleets. There’s a safety element to that.  The other dimension of innovative technology is providing the critical knowledge needed to make strategic decisions such as where and when to fish, when to return, how best to sell or buy quota or stock, and the ability to predict environmental conditions.

The fishing industry is highly regulated.  There are a number of legal and government controls that fishermen need to comply with. One key element for us to help the industry is to make it easier and quicker for them to meet these obligations, so that they have more time to invest in organising and carrying out their fishing operations and business activities, which is what they want to focus on.


To what extent have startups provided innovative technology?
Personally, I think startups have a good opportunity to compete with established suppliers if they are truly innovative. The reason for that is that the fishing industry across the world is living in a moment where there are many changes taking place: in the marine environment, in competition and also in regulation and many want to explore opportunities to ensure the sector becomes truly sustainable.


What do you see as the future of the Blue Economy?
The Blue Economy is really about creating value in sustainability. It is about ensuring people see value in looking after the ocean, so that it is less about exploiting resources and more about taking a long-term approach and implementing an effective stewardship system that ensures the long-term health of the productive systems of the ocean.

The Blue Economy is ultimately about looking at the way in which human activities interact with the natural systems of the ocean, and to see where the optimum balance lies. Then, it is necessary to create and sustain the production practices and economic systems that can support that balance in the long term.”


Could you tell us a bit about BeM?
Blue Economy Messenger (BeM) is an innovative technology product, supported by InnovateUK, that is currently in development. The idea is to create a platform which combines communications and connectivity systems with hardware and software systems to meet a range of needs of different segments within the fishing industry. One of the key objectives is to enable fishermen to adapt successfully to the changing regulatory environment, and another is to provide affordable access to communications even in remotest areas.

BeM will provide a mobile solution – on hardware suitable for use at sea – which provides vessels with access to a lot of information that will make their fishing trip safer and more efficient, as well as allowing it to meet regulatory requirements easily. Rather than focusing purely on data entry, we want to provide users with  support on everything from catch sustainability to business efficiency, safe and fully compliant operations, to weather and other information support.


How does this partnership with FrontM further your companies mission?
NLAI works principally with the application of new technologies and datasets, so we chose our partners very carefully because we need not only innovative approaches to technology applications, but we also need to have shared values and shared objectives. Sustainability needs to be as important to our partners as it is for us, but we also want an approach to projects that is rigorous and has the health of the ocean and the needs of the end user as a focus. We chose our partners to meet the needs we know exist and be able to deliver them with the same dedication and passion, and with the same ethical values.


What are some of the priorities NLAI is focusing on?
There is one requirement for fishermen all over the world: to be able to operate in a way that is cost-effective, and that does not compromise the ongoing productivity of their fishing grounds. Around the world fishermen are finding that in order to get the best prices for their fish they need to demonstrate traceability, sustainability and legality, and we want to help them in achieving this

“Working with FrontM has been a great experience. It has been a good opportunity to put our respective areas of knowledge and passion into practice together. The industry, project finance, and regulatory knowledge that we have at NLAI combines with the innovation and technology creation function that FrontM has. So really a marriage made in heaven where we can explore new avenues for supporting the Blue Economy at the same time”


How has the overall response been towards technology in growth of the maritime conservation?
It is clear technology has an important role to play to enable marine users as well as those with the responsibility of regulating utilisation activities to be as efficient, sustainable and as effective as possible. The challenge is to make the technology user-friendly and ensure that the people who most need it actually love it. It is not technology for technology’s sake, it is technology that helps users navigate complex regulatory environments, become more productive, and at the same time look after the source of their livelihoods: the sea.

“Tech for good” is a good way to summarise it, not just for the good of the sea and fish but also especially for the good of the fishermen. To achieve progress, we need to create technology that people will love and want to use.


Reproduced with the kind permission of FrontM Ltd