1. Overview

1.1 As part of the international maritime community’s wide-ranging response to the growing threat from terrorism world-wide, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) decided to establish a new system for the global identification and tracking of ships. Following a major effort to identify appropriate technologies, establish the necessary global legal regime and achieve political consensus concerning the collection, distribution and use of the data, IMO has established a system for the Long-Range Identification and Tracking of Ships (LRIT).

1.2 The LRIT system consists of shipborne LRIT information transmitting equipment, Communication Service Provider(s), Application Service Provider(s), LRIT Data Centre(s), the LRIT Data Distribution Plan and the International LRIT Data Exchange. Certain aspects of the performance of the LRIT system are reviewed or audited by the LRIT Coordinator acting on behalf of all Contracting Governments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). IMSO has been appointed to be the LRIT Coordinator.

1.3  Figure 1 provides an illustration of the LRIT system architecture.

1.4 Under new SOLAS Regulation V/19-1, ships will be required to report their position (LRIT information) automatically, to a special shore data collection, storage and distribution system, at least four times a day. LRIT information is provided to Contracting Governments and Search and Rescue services entitled to receive the information, upon request, through a system of National, Regional, and Co operative LRIT Data Centres, using where necessary, the International LRIT Data Exchange.

1.5 This article is intended to provide an overview of the general structure of the international LRIT system, with a summary of the most important LRIT functions and requirements. It does not supersede SOLAS Regulation V/19.1 or any of the supporting resolutions promulgated by IMO, which should always be consulted for definitive information. 

2  The Regulatory Basis for LRIT

2.1  The obligations of ships to transmit LRIT information and the rights and obligations of Contracting Governments and of SAR services to receive LRIT information are established in regulation V/19-1 of the 1974 SOLAS Convention.

2.2 IMO has also established a series of Assembly Resolutions and MSC Circulars that provide details of the technical and operational criteria, and arrangements for the implementation of the LRIT system world wide. These circular are available at: 

2.3  Individual Flag States are expected to publish specific regulations for the ships on their Register providing detailed guidance on the implementation of LRIT, including ship equipment conformance test arrangements, plus the Application Service Provider(s) and Data Centre chosen by the Flag concerned.

3 Shipborne Equipment

3.1  The regulations that require ships to participate in the LRIT system apply to the following types of ships engaged on international voyages:

  • passenger ships, including high-speed passenger craft;
  • cargo ships, including high-speed craft, of 300 gross tonnage3 and upwards; and
  • mobile offshore drilling units.

However, ships operating in Sea Area A4, as defined in SOLAS regulation VI/2.1.15, must comply not later than the first survey of the radio installation after 1 July 2009.

3.2  The “shipborne equipment” utilised for LRIT can be any communications terminal on board the vessel that is capable of automatically transmitting the ship’s LRIT information, without human intervention, at 6-hourly intervals to an LRIT data centre.

3.3  In addition, the shipboard equipment must be capable of:

  • being configured remotely to transmit LRIT information at variable intervals;
  • transmitting LRIT information on receipt of a specific request from the shore (ie when polled); and
  • being interfaced with an external global navigation satellite receiver (eg GPS), or have an internal positioning capability.

3.4  It must also meet a number of specific environmental and installation requirements, including the general requirements for shipborne radio equipment forming part of the global maritime distress and safety system (GMDSS) set out in IMO resolution A.,694(17).

4  The LRIT Information

4.1  The LRIT Information that is required to be transmitted by the ship is specified in new SOLAS Regulation V/19-1.5 and is limited to:

  • identity of the ship;
  • position of the ship (latitude and longitude);
  • date and time of the position provided.

5 Communication Service Provider(s)

5.1  The Communication Service Provider (CSP) provides the communications services which transfer LRIT data securely from ship to the ASP on shore. The means of communication will often be via satellite, but the LRIT system itself is independent of the means of communication, and any method can be used, as long as the correct packet of data arrives on shore at the right periodicity or when demanded. The IMO Performance Standard requires that:

“The shipboard equipment should transmit the LRIT information using a communication system which provides coverage in all areas where the ship operates.”

6 Application Service Provider(s)

6.1  The Application Service Provider (ASP) receives the LRIT reports transmitted by the ship via the CSP, adds certain additional information to each report, and forwards the reports to the Data Centre nominated by the ship’s Flag State. The information to be added to each LRIT report by the ASP includes:

IMO ship identification number and MMSI for the ship;

  • name of the ship;
  • unique identification code for the LRIT Data Centre; and
  • a number of time stamps used for tracking and audit purposes.

6.2  In addition, the ASP is responsible for testing and configuring the ship’s communications terminal, both when the terminal is new and during continued LRIT reporting, including executing “on demand” transmissions of LRIT data. 

6.3  Experience has shown that ship’s communication terminals do not always continue reporting automatically without further intervention, and the ASP is responsible for identifying when a terminal has ceased automatic reporting for any reason and resetting its reporting function when required. 

6.4  Lastly, the ASP must ensure that LRIT information is collected, stored and routed in a reliable and secure manner. 

6.5  The ASP is will often be a commercial entity, and is chosen and recognized by a Contracting Government to provide LRIT Data to their Data Centre. 

7  LRIT Data Centres

7.1  The primary purposes of an LRIT Data Centre (DC) are to collect, store and make available to authorised entities the LRIT information transmitted by ships instructed by their administrations to utilise the services of that DC. In carrying out these core functions, the DC is required to ensure that LRIT data users are only provided with the LRIT information they are entitled to receive under the terms of SOLAS Regulation V/19.1. 

7.2  In addition, the LRIT DC acts as a “clearing house” by receiving requests for LRIT information lodged in other DCs from its associated Administration(s) and obtaining the data requested. Generally LRIT reports so requested will be exchanged through the International Data Exchange.

7.3  LRIT Data Centres are required to archive their data so that the reports can be recovered, if required, at a later date and the activities of the DC can be audited by the LRIT Coordinator. 

7.4  LRIT DCs may make a charge for LRIT data they provide to other DCs. 

7.5  DCs may be either National (established to provide service to only one Contracting Government); Cooperative (established to provide services to a number of Contracting Governments) or Regional (established to provide services to a number of Contracting Governments acting through a regional entity of some kind). The IMO Performance Standard envisages also an International Data Centre (IDC), to provide LRIT services on an international basis to many countries that do not wish to establish their own DCs, but the IMO Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) has not yet decided to establish such an IDC.

8  International LRIT Data Exchange 

8.1  The International LRIT Data Exchange (IDE) exists to route LRIT information between LRIT DCs using the information provided in the LRIT Data Distribution Plan. It is therefore connected via the internet to all LRIT DCs and the LRIT Data Distribution Plan server. 

8.2  The IDE cannot access and does not archive the LRIT data itself, but it does maintain a journal of message header information – which can be understood as the “envelope” containing the LRIT information. This journal is used for invoicing functions and for audit purposes. 

8.3  The performance of the IDE is audited by the LRIT Coordinator. 

9   LRIT Data Distribution Plan

9.1  The LRIT Data Distribution Plan (DDP) is principally a database that holds information needed to allow the international LRIT system to operate correctly. The DDP is consulted by any DC in order to determine whether a request for LRIT information should be allowed under the rules for the distribution of LRIT data. 

9.2  The DDP information includes: 

  • a list of the unique identification codes assigned to key elements in the LRIT system;
  • the coordinates which define the various geographical areas declared by Contracting Governments within which they wish to exercise their rights to receive or restrict the distribution of LRIT information as a Flag or Coastal State; and
  • a list of the ports and port facilities within the territory and places under the jurisdiction of each Contracting Government.

10  LRIT System Security

10.1  Current LRIT information can have both a security and a commercial value. It must therefore be strictly protected from unauthorised access in storage and when it is being exchanged. The LRIT Performance Standard provides for the protection of LRIT data through the protection not only of the databases themselves, but also the communication links used to exchange data. Recommended methods of data protection include: authorization prior to access; authentication of those accessing the data; confidentiality (usually by encryption of the data) and data integrity checking. 

11 The LRIT Coordinator 

11.1  IMSO has been appointed as the LRIT Coordinator by the Maritime Safety Committee; and has implemented that decision by amendments to the IMSO Convention and its operational procedures. 

11.2  The functions of the LRIT Coordinator include: 

  • assisting in the establishment of the IDE and IDC through issuing and evaluating Requests for Proposals to potential operators;
  • facilitating the testing and integration of new DCs and other elements into the international LRIT system;
  • reviewing the performance of the system on an annual basis, through review and audit of ASPs, DCs and the IDE, verifying in particular that Contracting Governments and Search and Rescue services receive the information they are entitled to, and not any information to which they are not entitled; and
  • providing an annual report to the Maritime Safety Committee on the performance of the LRIT system including any non-conformities, and making any appropriate recommendations with a view to improving the efficiency, effectiveness and security of the LRIT system.

11.3  The LRIT Coordinator is authorised to charge for the services it provides.

12 Access to LRIT Information

12.1  Under the terms of SOLAS Regulation V/19-1.8, governments are entitled to receive LRIT information, if they wish to do so, for security and other purposes, in four basic situations: 

  • as a Flag State, an Administration is entitled to receive LRIT information about ships entitled to fly its flag irrespective of where such ships may be located;
  • as a Port State, a Contracting Government is entitled to receive LRIT information about ships which have indicated their intention to enter a port facility or a place under the jurisdiction of that Contracting Government, subject to certain restrictions;
  • as a Coastal State, a Contracting Government is entitled to receive LRIT information about ships entitled to fly the flag of other Contracting Governments, not intending to enter a port facility or a place under the jurisdiction of that Contracting Government, navigating within a distance not exceeding 1,000 nautical miles of its coast, subject to certain restrictions; and
  • the Search and Rescue Service of a Contracting Government may receive, free of any charges, LRIT information in relation to the search and rescue of persons in distress at sea.

12.2  In addition, the MSC has subsequently decided that Contracting Governments may request, receive and use LRIT information for safety and marine environment protection purposes. The details of these uses have not yet been worked out.

12.3  Contracting Governments will generally have to pay a small charge, reflecting largely the costs of data collection and storage, for the LRIT information they use. The MSC has decided that ships themselves shall not be charged for the transmission or other costs of participation in the LRIT system. Similarly, the LRIT system has been designed so that the capabilities of many existing satellite communication terminals (eg Inmarsat C), mandatorily fitted in most SOLAS ships, will be sufficient for LRIT purposes.

As a result, it should not be necessary for the majority of ships to incur any significant cost in implementing the new LRIT reporting requirements.