Global commerce would be impossible without shipping, and wind farms at sea are indispensable for energy provision on land. Yet maritime transport systems and infrastructure are exposed to a wide range of risks.
The German Aerospace Centre’s (DLR) new Institute for the Protection of Maritime Infrastructures in Bremerhaven aims to identify these risks and work with businesses to develop safeguards.
Minor causes can have major effects. A computer glitch somewhere in the container terminal can bring the entire management system to a standstill. Mile-long queues of lorries tail back at the entrances to the port, timetables are thrown into turmoil, goods are delivered late, perhaps resulting in a delay in production at a large company. Before long, the cost of the delay hits seven figures. This is not a fictitious example – shipping companies and port authorities around the world have experienced this more than once. “This is just one example of the risks that maritime infrastructure is exposed to. There is currently no overview of the total risks that the sector faces,” says Dr Dennis Göge, programme coordinator for safety and security research and founding director of the Institute for the Protection of Maritime Infrastructures at the German Aerospace Center (DLR). Through its new institute, the DLR hopes to create this overview for the maritime economy so that it can be used to actively reduce risks.
Maritime systems and infrastructures are of far greater importance to daily life than many people think. The image of shipping as the beast of burden for global commerce is still widespread. But there is much more to it than ensuring that TVs from the Far East make it into European living rooms. In addition to shipping, there are shipping lanes, ports, power and data cables on the ocean floor, and resources such as fish, oil and gas: “Virtually every aspect of life is directly or indirectly influenced by what goes on at sea,” says Göge. The scope for problems and failures is as varied as the systems and infrastructures. Experts such as Göge have to consider both safety and security concerns, i.e. problems that may occur during operation as well as external dangers, such as terrorist attacks, that affect infrastructures.
“We need to be aware of dangers and risks in order to counter them, and it is necessary to look at both areas holistically,” says Göge, who has extensive experience in safety and security research. But the maritime world is highly complex. Beneath the layers of private companies, government institutions and international organisations lies a vast multitude of actors. Most of them have been working in the field of safety and security for some time, but more often than not with their own interests in mind.
Individual shipping companies, for example Carnival Cruises, have their own situation centres where they monitor activity on their ships in real time. Some countries operate agencies that can intervene in the event of complex and/or dangerous situations. Germany, for example, has the Havariekommando and the US has the Coast Guard. Global institutions such as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) develop regulatory frameworks for the safety and security of people at sea. Yet there is a lack of overarching information systems or even early warning systems. This is where the DLR’s new institute comes into play.
The DLR’s interest in activity at sea may seem surprising at first, but the experts at the DLR know all about complex situations and tasks. Their applied research and development for aircraft and satellites focuses on areas such as sensors, remote sensing and data transmission. The DLR also conducts research in other areas, including energy and transport, which gives it a close connection to maritime infrastructures. “This includes offshore wind farms and major undersea cables such as NordLink, which links the Norwegian and German power grids,” says Göge. Bremerhaven was an obvious choice for the seat of the new institute. The city by the sea is home to Germany’s second-largest port and the centre of the offshore energy sector. Many maritime research organisations are based here, and the city lies at the heart of the largest cluster of aerospace companies in Europe.
The institute is still busy establishing the infrastructure for the 60 to 70 employees that will be working there. At the same time, founding director Göge and his team are defining future tasks and priorities. “Safety and security often become a hot topic after the event,” he says, speaking from experience. Because the focus is on avoiding dangers, the DLR is looking for specific areas where preventative measures make sense and are urgently required. In the future, the institute will investigate what type of situation reports are required in real time and what sensor systems are needed to create them. The researchers are not looking at the world as a whole: “A single port is itself a highly complex system with many different actors and responsibilities,” Göge explains. Faced with such complexity, it will be easier to increase safety and security if all actors have access to essential information and to a comprehensive overview of the situation.
The offshore wind farms currently under construction in the North Sea are a prime example of where the actors could benefit from a comprehensive overview of the situation to improve safety and security. The new institute will also look at data security concerns arising from the increased transfer of information between ships, ports and shipping companies. But most of all, Göge and his team – which includes former managers from the shipping industry – are looking to contact key players in the maritime sector directly in order to document their questions and experiences. This close contact with the sector is very important to Göge: “The new institute may have its roots in aerospace, but we certainly don’t want to conduct our research in a vacuum.”
Press contact: Andreas Schütz, DLR Spokesperson, Tel.: +49 2203 601 2474, E-Mail: Andreas.Schuetz@dlr.de
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