Collaboration in the Maritime Security Domain

An Overview of the Maritime Domain

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In today’s world, there are few places as relevant to national security or as potentially hazardous as the open ocean. Known for its unpredictability and resistance to man’s attempts at control, the sea is a relatively lawless zone through which travels the vast majority of global trade. Over 184,000 ships exceeding 100 gross tons navigate the oceans between more than 10,000 ports worldwide, carrying more than 1 million seafarers and 20 million shipping containers on board.[1] In addition, there are numerous vessels used for fishing, research, recreation, military, and other special purposes, exponentially muddling the maritime picture.

Hidden among legitimate transport activities, and often characterized by opaque ownership records and multiple levels of agents, are vessels that, knowingly or not, provide opportunities for criminal enterprise. Theft, fraud, contraband smuggling by transnational crime syndicates, rogue state and non-state traffickers in drugs, humans, weapons, and other controlled/potentially hazardous substances use the relatively unregulated, porous system of oceans and ports to further their illegitimate trade.

Terrorist organizations not only use the maritime transport system to ship personnel and supplies across borders in order to facilitate their global activities, they also make it a target for attacks. Past successful attacks within the maritime domain include the USS Cole and the French oil tanker MV Limburg in 2002 (both off the coast of Yemen), the Philippine Super Ferry 14 in 2004 (over 100 fatalities), and more recently, the Japanese oil tanker M. Star in 2010 (in the Strait of Hormuz). Such attacks have repercussions that extend beyond the human casualties and the immediate physical and financial damages: insurance prices increase, business practices are more cautious, and additional security measures and regulations add cost and delays.

State interest in shipping security extends beyond criminal subversion or terrorist attack. The industry is opaque and lacks sufficient oversight by many flag states.  Competition causes many stakeholders to seek ways to increase thin profit margins.  Vessel owners and operators may cut corners and skirt safety regulations, leading to reckless and unsafe business practices. Environmental contamination is a constant threat from leaks or spills by vessels transporting oil, chemicals, or other potentially hazardous substances.

Challenges to Providing Maritime Security

It is not a simple matter to understand the global maritime domain and the associated factors that impact the safety and security of its actors, the environment, or the global economy. Obtaining Maritime Domain/Situational Awareness (MDA/MSA) requires development and analysis of a holistic maritime picture. Timely, accurate, and usable data on vessels, the cargo they carry, and the people owning, operating, and managing the vessels is essential. Vessels constantly travel the world, changing cargo, crew, operators, and registration. This dynamic maritime environment makes collecting, organizing, and analyzing the data a long and arduous process.

The nature of maritime threats also evolves as the tactics of trans-national terrorist and criminal organizations adapt to changes in technology, security regulations, and law enforcement tactics. Securing, policing, and ensuring the safety of the maritime domain is complicated and difficult.

Border Control Organizations throughout the world consistently face four challenges:

  1. Access to timely and accurate information
  2. Budgetary and resource constraints
  3. Facilitating collaboration with local, national, and international partners
  4. Balancing safety and security requirements with the facilitation of trade and commerce

To maintain the maritime domain’s safety and security, national agencies must accurately identify and assess the various risks they face. Access to timely and accurate information is essential to this process. Unfortunately, while a nation may possess significant collections of pertinent data, they are often stove-piped in legacy systems or closely-held and not shared, even among national agencies.

Organizations are also faced with shrinking budgets and reductions in staff, effectively being asked to do more with less. With over 184,000 ships navigating the world’s oceans and visiting the more than 10,000 ports worldwide, there is an enormous amount of information available. The sheer size of the potential data set requires technology to assist in collecting, organizing, and evaluating the data.

The maritime domain spans the globe, therefore the related security problems are global, and require multilateral collaboration among many parties. International efforts through various bodies such as the International Maritime Organization, NATO, and other regional groups have been made to increase cooperation on safety and security regulations, as well as to coordinate efforts to police ports and the open oceans. Regardless, coordinating the efforts of multiple organizations is a demanding process. Joint operations are often hampered by barriers to information sharing, especially when classified methods are used to gather intelligence.  It is not sufficient simply to exchange ship positional data—there must be a way to share analysis.

As programs related to safety and security continue to evolve, nations must balance them with the needs of the global economy. While inspections of vessels and cargo may catch and prevent transgressions, they are time consuming and cause prohibitive delays for the shipping industry. Experts estimate that less than 10% of incoming cargo can be scanned or inspected without serious disruptions to supply lines and trade.[2]Therefore, accurate intelligence and risk assessment is necessary to target vessels and containers for inspection, hopefully even before they leave their port of origin.

GreenLine’s Approach to MDA/MSA Solutions

GreenLine delivers solutions to support our customers in addressing these challenges. Our solutions combine a robust risk analysis application with our real-world expertise and consulting services. Our approach is based upon three key elements:

  • Collaboration
  • Technology
  • Policy

We support our customers in implementing solutions that contain a combination of these components to successfully achieve objectives related to maritime awareness.

Collaboration among multiple organizations can be difficult to initiate and develop. GreenLine Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) bring years of hands-on experience to assist our customers in engaging and organizing the relevant communities of stakeholders both within and across organizations and governments.  To develop a comprehensive solution, we provide support in discovering relevant data and forging compelling approaches to sharing it.

After defining goals and objectives, our emphasis shifts to using technology to operationalize a solution. There is a vast amount of raw data that must be sorted and analyzed before a clear picture of the maritime situation can appear. As vessels travel the world exchanging crew and cargo, the amount of data grows. Moreover, new risks appear due to changes in technology, regulations, and enforcement activities. Any solution designed to facilitate MDA/MSA must quickly integrate and process large data sets from a variety of sources and must have an adaptable framework to assess risk in an intelligent and operationally relevant manner.

GreenLine iBenchTM powers our MDA/MSA solutions. It is a risk assessment application that enables organizations to develop a holistic maritime picture by integrating data from multiple sources, such as open source ship position data (including Automated Identification System (AIS) data), IHS Fairplay vessel and entity characteristics, entity or vessel watchlists, and agency databases containing details on vessels and their cargo and crew. This data is used for risk assessment and presented in a user-friendly interface which supports a collaborative work environment.

A successful MDA/MSA solution includes policies. Policies are necessary to enable collaboration and cooperation among partnering organizations. These policies primarily govern two areas: the sharing of data and the coordination of resources in response to a threat. GreenLine SMEs have expertise gained from years of hands-on experience, which can be applied to enhancing or creating policies. We work with our customers to define policies and supporting procedures that enable them to fulfill security and control objectives.

Benefits of GreenLine Solutions


The backbone of all GreenLine MDA/MSA solutions is iBench. Our risk assessment application provides multiple benefits to organizations responsible for maritime domain safety and security, including:

  • Comprehensive maritime data in a single system
  • Configurable risk assessment framework
  • Highly customizable queries
  • Collaboration and notifications
  • Unclassified environment to allow information sharing among local, national and international partners

iBench is capable of integrating data from a variety of sources into a single, comprehensive picture of the maritime environment. Data are presented in a user-friendly interface allowing for easy identification of vessels in an area of responsibility. Vessel positions are displayed on a map with their risk level visually indicated.

GreenLine’s risk assessment framework is a customizable, rule-based scoring system. The solution includes a default rule set that enables all users to work with the risk analysis functionality immediately. Each rule is associated with a risk score and that score is applied when a rule is activated for a vessel or entity. A cumulative score is awarded and represents the risk level for that vessel or entity. In addition to the default rule set, the risk analysis framework is highly customizable. An organization can modify and add rules and scores to address its specific areas of concern.

Maritime security professionals typically focus on a specific geographic area and understand the local risk indicators.  iBench easily enables the end user to draw an area of responsibility and to see the data associated with it. The iBench interface includes a series of drop-down boxes that enable users to create queries and review results in minutes.

As end users conduct analyses or reach conclusions, they typically need to share information with colleagues in their agency and with partnering organizations. iBench supports collaboration through tools that distribute reports and alerts. The user configures high-risk indicators to generate alerts automatically, which are sent by email to specified recipients. iBench also supports quick and easy generation of reports to be distributed to local, national, and international partners.

GreenLine offers iBench either as an enterprise system implemented and maintained at the customer site or as a cloud service accessed over the internet. The enterprise implementation offers the customer significant flexibility and control over the data sources that are integrated. As a result, our enterprise system can be used to assess risk on conveyance, cargo, and crew.

GreenLine offers the cloud service in partnership with IHS Fairplay under the trade name MDA WatchKeeperTM. MDA WatchKeeper is a powerful low-cost solution that requires no hardware or maintenance investment, and focuses largely on vessel tracking and associated vessel/entity risk.


GreenLine’s staff includes Maritime Security, Maritime Safety, Intelligence, and Customs SMEs. Our SMEs provide guidance on the design of our products, specifically in the area of risk assessment. We are continuously refining the included rule set in response to changing behaviors in the maritime world.

The default rules are based on industry and government understanding of common risk indicators. These indicators stem from knowledge of the profiles and characteristics of vessels and owner/operating entities that have been involved in criminal activity or may be trying to hide key ownership profiles. Organizations such as the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), International Maritime Organization (IMO), and government border control agencies continuously develop and update vessel/ownership profiles as they monitor the world’s fleets. The SMEs rely on these and other resources to develop our rule set focusing on whether a vessel’s activity makes “economic sense”.

Our SMEs also work directly with our customers and apply their knowledge and experience to address operational requirements.  We facilitate discussions to identify the maritime safety and security concerns that are of greatest priority to your user community. Once these priorities are defined, the SMEs work with your experts to discuss risk indicators and define risk profiles. By leveraging the expertise of the GreenLine SMEs in conjunction with the experience and knowledge of your own user community, we can highly optimize the risk assessment framework to meet your organization’s requirements.


GreenLine MDA/MSA Solutions also include high-quality professional services. Our Services Team has the real-world experience and expertise to facilitate your success with GreenLine solutions.

We are experienced in project management and work with our customers to define key milestones and a corresponding schedule. We track progress, communicate status, and proactively manage costs and risk through early identification of issues and resolutions.

We encourage user system adoption through hands-on testing and training. We deliver tailored training programs that include lecture, discussion, demonstration, and hands-on exercises. Our instructors engage the end users in real-world scenarios to train them in using the system in the context of their daily responsibilities.

Once the solution is up and running in your organization, the GreenLine Services Team provides support and guidance on continued system optimization.  Our SMEs assist with establishing a regular review process to evaluate current risk indicators and fine tune the rules and scores to align to those indicators.  In addition, we provide end user support with configuration of queries and reports.


GreenLine’s current risk assessment engagements have seen organizations:

  1. Save 2-3 hours daily in monitoring high interest shipping
  2. Locate human smugglers operating off littoral
  3. Share a targeting package across 15 agencies in 7 different countries within one hour
  4. Provide broadcasts to partner nations which have a limited MDA/MSA capability

Our experts and technology are a formidable team that is proven, cost effective, and efficient in solving maritime awareness issues.  For more information please visit our web site or contact us at


[1] Rear Admiral Sam Cox, USN, Coordinated Intelligence Efforts in Support of MDA; IHS Port Guide Overview online

[2] Ben Bain, “Commerce versus Security,” Federal Computer Week, 22:20, Jul 2008