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Gov't aims for common standards for ship navigation apps to prevent collisions

The government plans to introduce common standards for free ship navigation smartphone apps that are under development, in order to allow information exchange between ships and to prevent collisions, it has been learned.

    Kenkichi Tamura, head of the Maritime Accident Analysis Center at the National Maritime Research Institute, which is under the ministry's jurisdiction, says, "When there is a risk of a collision, it is easy to avoid if both sides have positional information, not just one side. If the apps are free, we can also expect them to be widely used."

    The standards are being created by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, with a goal of implementing them in 2018.

    Communications equipment maker Japan Radio Co. is developing one such smartphone app that can show the location of one's ship and other ships on a navigation map. The app will use GPS functions to transmit a ship's location through signal towers on land. The ship routes will be recorded on servers at the towers, which would help for analysis in the event of an accident at sea.

    Other companies are producing similar apps. If the apps are created according to common standards, they will be able to share their information, allowing them to show the location of more ships. The ministry is also preparing common rules for operation of the apps.

    The apps are to show the names of other ships and their owners, as well as their pilots' mobile phone numbers. The apps are meant to be used within 10 kilometers of the coast, where ships will be in the range of phone signal towers, allowing collisions to be avoided through phone conversations.

    The ministry will also have the companies developing the apps consider adding the ability for the apps to sound an alarm when there is danger of a collision. The ministry is also working to set up policies for the handling of personal information gathered through the apps, such as ship positions, pilots' names and their phone numbers.

    The Ship Safety Act requires ships of 500 metric tons or more to be equipped with Automatic Identification Systems that transmit their locational information. The ministry also recommends small ships to carry these systems, but they cost hundreds of thousands of yen, which has limited the spread of their use.

    According to Japan Coast Guard statistics, 11,658 boats were involved in collisions on Japanese waters between 2010 and 2014. By vessel type, the most frequently involved in crashes were small pleasure boats, at 4,939 ships, or 42 percent. Adding in commercial and personal fishing ships, which tend to be small, the three categories cover 75 percent of the total, indicating that small ships are involved in most collisions at sea.

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