Maritime risk intelligence platform set for testing

Chattanooga-based International Maritime Security Associates is set to test a new emergency system for maritime operations. It will first be tested on yachts but hopefully soon added to commercial vessels.

Cargo and passenger vessels on the high seas face a multitude of threats and risks that affect decision-making, from delays at canals to illegal migrant traffic, major weather events, and even disease outbreaks. For decades, the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), which had its origin in the 1979 International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, has been broadcasting these alerts to ships worldwide. GMDSS relies on a complicated array of position-indicating beacons, satellites, high frequency radios, and direct-printing services to distribute urgent information to vessels at sea, and ships have been required by law to maintain GMDSS equipment and separate battery systems powering that equipment since the late 1980s.

The only problem? GMDSS’s alerts are not geo-located, meaning that any given ship’s officers have to wade through a torrent of unsolicited information about far-flung waterways to find anything that pertains to their vessel’s immediate area.

Corey Ranslem, CEO of Chattanooga-based International Maritime Security Associates (IMSA), put it this way: “There isn’t one system or website currently providing the information like our Automated Risk Management Solution (ARMS) platform. Crew members have to look at multiple sources to try and determine what is happening around them. Systems today are not geographically specific like ARMS, making most of the data received by vessels irrelevant and useless.”

Ranslem, a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard who has worked for years as a commercial maritime security consultant, saw an opportunity for a targeted, real-time data service for maritime traffic and founded IMSA with his business partner Frank Fenner, a U.S. Navy veteran, in 2013. Ranslem and Fenner moved IMSA from South Florida to Chattanooga, TN, in the spring of 2016 over concerns about the reliability of Florida’s power supply during hurricane season. They chose Chattanooga in part because of its citywide gigabit-per-second fiber optic internet infrastructure—they need the bandwidth to gather and distribute huge amounts of data to tens of thousands of ships across the planet.

IMSA already has an established maritime risk management and regulatory compliance consulting business, but it is now in the final stages of raising capital to launch ARMS in the first quarter of 2018. IMSA plans to begin beta-testing on large yachts this winter. Ranslem explained that IMSA will court large yachts first because those high-end, customer-oriented vessels are typically the early adopters of new technology, and will then focus on commercial vessels and cruise liners.

Right now, IMSA has a global intelligence center compiling and vetting information and alerts before they’re entered into the ARMS platform, which then automatically selects what will be sent to a particular ship based on a predetermined radius. IMSA is working on digital tools to automate that aggregating and vetting process, and is even looking ahead to the day when it will expand into offering predictive analytics, forecasting events such as likely delays in a region so that maritime shippers and carriers have even more options for managing their risk. 

During the development of the platform, IMSA conducted market research to find out what kinds of information ships wanted access to the most, and in addition to the expected categories like extreme weather and piracy threats, clients wanted to know about events like civil unrest and even disease outbreaks.

“During some of our initial testing we spoke with a captain onboard a fuel tanker that does runs to two U.S. Ports,” said Ranslem. “He saw an alert in our system about a boil water notice for the port he was visiting. He told me no one in the company told him about the notice during his inbound briefing. He said that type of information is extremely relevant as contaminated water could cause major issues and cost a lot of money to mitigate.”

Ultimately, IMSA wants its data platform to be as expandable and customizable as possible, because it sees lots of inefficiencies and unquestioned, antiquated practices in maritime shipping. “This industry is ripe for disruption,” Ranslem said, before going on to list a number of ways that IMSA will be able to leverage its platform for logistics and supply-chain management purposes. Ranslem and Fenner’s instincts are borne out by leading industry analysts. McKinsey’s new forecast of the next 50 years of container shipping predicts a rapidly expanding role for data, logistics, and analytics firms—and IMSA is well-positioned to take advantage of that trend.

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John Paul Hampstead, Associate Editor

John Paul writes about current events and economics, especially politics, finance, and commodities, and holds a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Michigan. In previous lives John Paul studied Shakespeare in London and Buddhism in India, but now he focuses on transportation and logistics in the heart of Freight Alley--Chattanooga. He spends his free time with his wife and daughter herding cats, collecting books, and walking alongside the Tennessee River.