A new safety system is providing invaluable information about shipping activity in the waters where wave and tidal energy devices are tested in Orkney.
EMEC, the European Marine Energy Centre, has set up two receiving stations that pick up transmissions from ships operating near its test sites and over a wide sea area.
The information is important for EMEC, as it prepares for an increase in testing activity, but is also available to the public over the internet.
The main aim is to ensure that marine energy machines can operate safely at the wave test site in Atlantic waters to the west of Stromness and at the tidal test site off Eday.
But the information gathered is also fed into international databases that allow the movement of shipping worldwide to be charted on two freely available websites.
The Automatic Identification System (AIS) is used by vessels to provide a wide range of information, including their position, speed and course.
EMEC has established receiving stations at the Black Craig in the West Mainland and on Eday to pick up AIS transmissions from shipping operating in Orkney waters.
“As more and more devices are installed at the wave and tidal test sites, it's crucial that we have a clear and constantly updated source of information about vessels working in and around those areas,” said EMEC managing director Neil Kermode.
“AIS is a well proven system used by shipping worldwide and has an important role to play in ensuring that marine energy technologies and passing vessels can all operate safely in our local waters.”
Before the installation of the receiving station on the Black Craig, the surrounding sea area was regarded as an AIS blackspot, with hills and cliffs in the area blocking transmissions from ships to other stations on Orkney Mainland.
Standing at 113 metres above sea level, with an uninterrupted view to the west of Orkney, the Black Craig station is now picking up signals from far and wide.
“We knew it was a superb location, but we've still been surprised by the station's range,said EMEC senior operations engineer Graham Bleakley.
“It's even picking up transmissions from CalMac ferry Isle of Lewis as she crosses the Minch between Ullapool and Stornoway. And that's more than 100 miles away from Orkney.”
It is mandatory for ships over 300 tonnes to carry AIS equipment, with an increasing number of smaller commercial and leisure vessels also opting to fit the equipment as well.
“When you go on to the AIS websites you get an immediate picture of the ships at sea in our local waters,” added Mr Bleakley.
“You can see their location, speed and heading, as well as a wealth of other information about them. It's fascinating to watch and, with all that data so freely available, it plays a really important role in promoting marine safety.
“We're also pleased that the Black Craig receiving station is making a major contribution to AIS coverage, in what was previously a poorly covered area.” EMEC is also working with Stromness-based environmental consultants Aquatera on a detailed analysis of the AIS information.
This will build a comprehensive picture of the sea areas most used by shipping, information that will help steer the safe commercial deployment of marine energy devices in Orkney waters.
The AIS information is available on the www.marinetraffic.com and www.shipais.com websites.
Contact: Eileen Linklater
Phone: 01856 852060