Protecting Maritime Traffic

To meet cost-saving targets and reduce environmental impact, international shipping needs to be controlled with the same precision as the aviation world. This calls for traffic management systems that micromanage the routing and timing of entire shipping lanes.

Saab’s Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) controls all movements into the port of from a traffic management system, which is similar to systems found in the aviation sector.

Saab’s Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) controls all movements into the port of from a traffic management system, which is similar to systems found in the aviation sector.

Safety and efficiency are two keywords for Saab’s maritime traffic management business. Our software solutions are used on ships, in ports and around coasts throughout the world. Others who need this detailed information include pilots and dredging ships, oil pipeline inspections and wreck surveys. “You should be able to find everything you need for maritime traffic management and monitoring from us,” says Tomas Hjelmberg, head of product area Maritime Product Management (MTM) at Saab. “The trend is towards ever-larger ships, which involves greater risks in confined spaces such as ports and shipping lanes. This is where our systems come in, to safeguard safety and efficiency.”

Traffic management in ports means that all vessels are managed by a traffic management centre. Saab also supplies the radar stations and cameras required for the real-time tracking and monitoring of maritime traffic. Modified systems are available for rivers and canals. Saab’s systems can be found in Rotterdam, the largest port in Europe, as well as the coasts of India and rivers in China.

One large customer is the government in Hong Kong, which has the task of monitoring the world’s fourth largest port in terms of tonnage. “We are currently upgrading the entire system in Hong Kong,” says Hjelmberg. “This is an extremely large order worth SEK360 million.” The monitoring system is used by the territory’s Vessel Traffic Services in Hong Kong’s waters, with hundreds of islands spread around the area. The seas are extremely busy with a complicated mix of shipping. Super-sized container ships navigate within a confined area along with heavy local traffic in the shape of highspeed ferries and fishing vessels.

Saab’s traffic management system is made up of many parts that together create greater security for both seafarers and those who monitor an area. Pilots, who have to handle large ships in confined areas, can obtain assistance from a navigation system with ultrahigh precision to within a centimetre. The tool can be likened to an advanced GPS.

This is the pilot’s view when entering a lock. Saab’s navigation systems and software make the task possible despite very tight margins.

This is the pilot’s view when entering a lock. Saab’s navigation systems and software make the task possible despite very tight margins.

There is also a special administration and planning tool that handles the scheduling of vessels, plans piloting and servicing, and administers port dues and invoicing. The aim within the maritime industry is to control traffic the same way the aviation world uses slot times. It requires precise, advanced planning of shipping routes, in terms of course and speed, to ensure that a ship arrives in a port exactly on time.
“Today, ships often lie and wait to be allowed to come into the quayside,” says Hjelmberg. “This is an incredible waste of money, and it harms the environment. In some parts of the world there is also the problem of tides. If the ship arrives too late at the port, it may be forced to wait a day until it can enter.”

Keeping track of ships out on the open sea is another challenge. This can be solved by equipping all vessels with Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders. Saab is in the process of developing the next generation of transponders, which will provide much more information than is available today.

Transponders collect and share information about a ship’s position, speed and course. Saab also supplies encrypted AIS.Ships equipped with AIS transponders communicate their position, speed and course not only with each other and with on-shore installations but also, for example, with oil drilling platforms.


Saab’s hydrography software is used to chart the seabed. The software captures echoes from the sonar signals transmitted from a ship (rather like underwater radar) and analyses them to build up a picture of the surrounding area. The system is used during dredging, closing and inspecting oil pipelines, checking for oil leaks from the seabed or searching for wrecks. “It has also been used in the search for the Malaysian aircraft that disappeared in the Indian Ocean,” notes Hjelmberg.