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Celebration of Service

Volunteers help with maritime communications for Baltic Sea region


An auto accident can be inconvenient and dangerous, but collision at sea can be deadly. That's why more than 40 volunteers from 10 countries, driven by their passion for the seas, sailing, the environment and safety, have responded to the call to help develop open source software to enhance maritime communication.

The Baltic Sea Summit held in Helsinki, Finland brought together heads of state, representatives of the business sector, and non-governmental organizations to a new kind of summit that joined together parties who are willing to make concrete commitments contributing to the recovery of the Baltic Sea, the world's most polluted sea.

IBM employees who participated in the summit committed to a new project that improves communication onboard ships in the Baltic Sea. Ship location tracking is achieved through the Automatic Identification System (AIS), a standardized system mandated by the International Maritime Organization. This system is now under development to provide new maritime digital services, such as automatic weather and dangerous cargo information. However, the adoption of these new digital services is slow due to interoperability issues with existing AIS devices and investment costs to shipping companies, especially on vessels that come from developing countries.

To help solve this problem, volunteers from IBM are collaborating with the Technical Research Centre of Finland and the Finnish Maritime Administration to develop a system based on open source and open standards technology, where any ship equipped with a personal computer and the appropriate software is able to access the new AIS messages. At any moment, nearly every ship in the Baltic—no matter where in the world it has come from—is able to employ the new communications technology. The hope is that the risk of accidents will be reduced as a result.

The global team of volunteers will work in conjunction with the Baltic Sea Action Group to develop the second phase of this innovative open source PC client software for maritime communication. The software will support new AIS binary messages to enhance communication with ships and maritime administrators and increase safety in the Baltic Sea.

The Baltic Sea project is truly a global project. Interested volunteers hail from Argentina, Brazil, Finland, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Russia, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. In the words of Jolanda van Rooijen, an IBM Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs manager in the Nordics, "IBMers are eager to help fix a problem anywhere on the globe—in this case, the Baltic Sea. It shows our genuine will to make the world a better place, by doing what we are good at."