Background & History
Over the past decade the early ECDIS adapters have had to deal with many challenges such as inadequate coverage, high prices, incompatible scale bands, unfamiliar symbology, different security schemes, official and unofficial data, etc. Add to this a good deal of politics and commercial interest, and it is easy to understand the current confusion and lack of transparency in the market. It is also obvious that consolidation and simplification of the market is necessary for ECDIS to bring its benefit of improved safety into full swing.
All countries that participate in the SOLAS convention have also signed up to an obligation to produce charts and updates for their national waters. As the mandation of ECDIS comes into force, this obligation also applies to the production of ENCs. Many countries have already taken up this obligation and have produced significant numbers of ENCs, and are producing updates. However, many less developed countries are yet to start, or are producing ENCs in close cooperation with other countries.
In order to facilitate distribution of ENCs and ensure integrity of the ENC data throughout the entire distribution chain, the S-63 encryption standard was adopted some years ago. The S-63 standard inhibits free copying of ENC-data and thereby facilitates a distribution model which allows a transaction fee per decryption key (permit) to flow back to the individual links in the distribution chain. This model ensures that eventually the hydrographic office which produces the ENC can recover part of the production costs with the payment of the actual user of the data.
One could argue, however, that by encrypting the data, access to ENC data is restricted and safety at sea is adversely affected. The question here is whether S-63 encryption serves commercial rather than safety interests. Imagine a case where a ship has a casualty on board and urgently needs to enter a port for which it does not have an ENC. The ENC is available on the set of CDs it has on board but it has to request a permit first before being able to load the specific ENC. Current systems, including e-mail delays, loading time etc., mean that the best estimates involve at least a one-hour delay before the required ENC can be accessed. This is valuable time which could mean the difference between life and death. There are many other cases in which the current encryption scheme negatively affects safety at sea: think of having to divert in bad weather, ordering systems which are offline, cost-cutting policies of the shipowner etc. Clearly there is a need to re-evaluate the current distribution model against the upcoming mandation and the need to improve safety at sea.