Europe’s largest port to protect ships from GPS jamming

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Rotterdam1Technology to assure the safety of ships approaching Europe’s largest and busiest port in Rotterdam (pictured) has been developed as the Netherlands joins a growing number of nations around the world waking up to the threat of GPS jamming.

The new system, called eDLoran, uses signals transmitted from England, France and Germany to determine ships’ locations with an accuracy of better than 5 metres. It helps harbour pilots guide vessels precisely along narrow channels to their berths.

The Rotterdam system is complementary to the “eLoran” technology recently introduced by The General Lighthouse Authorities (GLAs) of the UK and Ireland in the Dover Strait. Both systems ensure that satellite navigation signals are constantly cross-checked against a high-precision aid that will take over automatically if GPS is disturbed, ensuring the reliability of vital navigation data. They rely on radio transmissions from special stations in Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, and the UK.

GPS now plays the key role in delivering the position, navigation and timing (PNT) information ships rely on to ensure safe navigation in bad weather. The threat of the loss of GPS signals and the need for a back-up technology are being recognised internationally as telecommunications, smart electricity grids, and high frequency financial trading also come to rely on it. Threats to GPS include solar storms and both deliberate and accidental jamming. Jammers that can cause complete GPS outages are now available online for as little as €40. They also block Europe’s new Galileo satellite system.

With 32,000 ships visiting Rotterdam each year, it is one of the world’s busiest ports. Reliable navigation, ensured by eDLoran, will be vital to reducing the risk of shipping accidents. These threaten safety and can be highly expensive and very damaging to the marine environment. The system helps to maintain the efficiency of vessel traffic movements, boosting Europe’s economy.

These new technologies re-use radio stations that previously transmitted “Loran C” signals, now becoming obsolete. The UK has already committed to installations at 7 harbours up the east coast by late 2014. It is seeking international agreement with its neighbours to re-equip their older stations in a bid to extend these new services from Rotterdam and the Dover Strait to the rest of Europe’s harbours and coastlines.

Eric Weisbecker, Fleet Operations Manager and President, P&O Ferries France, said: “We were the first to install an eLoran receiver on a passenger ferry and have seen how it could bring benefits to one of our flagship services. The eLoran service we currently use on the Dover-Calais route is provided for use in Dover and across the Channel to the edge of UK waters, but not thereafter or in Calais.

“We would support the roll-out of the system throughout the world. To be effective, navigation systems need to be seamless for the whole of the expected passage and we would support any efforts made by the French Government to foster the development of this system for their waters and ports.”

Martin Bransby, Research & Radionavigation Manager at the GLAs, added: “eLoran is increasingly accepted as requisite to shipping safety around the world. The future of the system in Europe, however, is dependent on the continued availability of French Loran transmitters and their development to provide eLoran.

“A decision to close down the Loran stations would remove the only practical option for a back-up to GPS in the near future, and would deny many opportunities for advancement in the economies of France and neighbouring countries. The need for collaboration is paramount in securing the future safety of our ships and in mitigating the threat posed to critical national infrastructures around the world.”

Wim van Buuren, Licensed maritime pilot with the Dutch Pilots Association (Loodswezen) commented: “Thorough investigation into our aim of improving port accessibility has made us aware of the vulnerability of satellite navigation systems. Since the accessibility of the highly important Eurochannel in the approach to Rotterdam is maximised by using modern techniques such as probabilistic tidal window calculations in combination with SBAS GPS, we need an answer to safeguard navigation when GPS fails.

“Traditional non-electronic position fixing devices cannot replace SBAS GPS in the shallow North Sea area around Rotterdam. eDLoran is at present known and demonstrated by us as the most successful and most accurate operational navigation system at sea which meets our backup requirements. eDLoran can be implemented at any location where the Loran signal can be received. The French Loran stations in the northwest European Loran system make accurate positioning on our continent feasible.”

Other nations that have committed to the eLoran technology are consulting with the GLAs on its roll out. They include South Korea, the victim of a 16-day GPS jamming attack from North Korea in 2012. Russia is working with the UK to improve shipping safety along the hazardous new High Arctic routes. In the US, a Bill in Congress encourages the development of the new technologies by re equipping old Loran C stations.