The coast guard keeps an eye on the sea
MAiDEN-project out of the starting blocks
March 1st 2018 was the official kick-off for the MAiDEN project. The Coast Guard Secretariat as well as a number of coast guard partners are involved. Which results do they hope to achieve? Who better to answer that question than Sarah Maes, Yves Maekelberg and Gwen Gonsaeles, participating to the MAiDEN project in the capacity of chairs of a working package.
Sarah Maes is policy advisor for the governor of West-Flanders and collaborates closely with the Belgian coast guard partners for several matters, such as the revision of the emergency plan for the North Sea. Yves Maekelberg accumulated years of experience in the areas of SafeSeaNet and Imdate, working as a project engineer for Shipping Assistance Division and is well acquainted with the world of EU agencies. Gwen Gonsaeles served the agency for Maritime Services and Coast for ten years and is now active as legal advisor for the Coast Guard Secretariat. She specialises in maritime law and regulations.
Can you explain, in a nutshell, what MAiDEN stands for?
Yves: “MAiDEN is the acronym for MAritime Information Data Exchange Network. Its ultimate goal is to ensure a more efficient exchange of information within the Coast Guard Centre. We applied for and were rewarded with EU funding for this project. It is scheduled over two years and should be completed by March 2020.”
Who is involved?
Sarah: “Five coast guard partners are cooperating in this project: the agency for Maritime Services and Coast (MDK), the ministry of Defence, Customs, the Maritime and River Police and the Directorate-General (DG) Navigation of the Federal Public Service (FPS) Mobility and Transport. The services of the governor for West-Flanders and the Coast Guard Secretariat make a concerted effort to provide the necessary support.”
How did this project come about?
Gwen: “For the very beginning, we must go back in time to 2006, when negotiations on the creation of a Coast Guard structure are ongoing at the cabinet of the minister for the North Sea. That Coast Guard structure is to encompass all governmental authorities which have legal competences at sea, both regional and federal. An agreement is reached and the Coast Guard cooperation agreement is published in the Belgian Government Gazette on July 5th 2007. The agreement includes different goals, amongst which the creation of one integrated coast guard centre, consisting of the Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centre (MRCC) and the Belgian Maritime Security Centre (MIK).”
What are the tasks of such a coast guard centre?
Yves: “The MRCC, which predates the Coast Guard cooperation agreement, is responsible for safety at sea and coordinates search and rescue operations. The MIK, which was inaugurated on September 12th 2007, is tasked with security at sea. Operators from the Navy, the Maritime and River Police and Customs work together to detect and identify illegal activities. Both centres have of course been cooperating since 2007, when the MIK came into being.”
How will the coast guard centre benefit from the MAiDEN project?
Gwen: “Since there is always room for improvement, a study on possible linkages between data – and communication networks at the MRCC and the MIK was carried out in 2016. Several measures for enhancement were identified. The European Agency for Small and Middle-sized Enterprises launched a call for proposals in 2007, in key with the identified measures.”
Presumably, such a project proposal is not put together overnight?
Sarah: “Indeed, it was not an easy task. The Coast Guard Secretariat took the lead. They were ideally suited to take on coordination of the project proposal thanks to their neutral position and expertise. Aligning all the varying interests was no mean feat, but they succeeded in bringing a sound proposal to the table.”
Can you tell us in more detail what the project proposal entailed?
Yves: “More specifically, we want to make the process of information-sharing more efficient. Wherever possible, information should be shared automatically and not manually. We focus on four points:
- installation of a Multifunctional Display Platform in the MRCC and in the MIK plus a connection between both platforms;
- creation of a coastguard information system plus a connection between databases at the MIK and the MRCC;
- electronic exchange of drift – and searchpatterns;
- efficient consultation of vessel, cargo and voyage data.
We set up a project structure and submitted our proposal with the European Commission on June 15th 2017.”
What was the verdict?
Gwen: “By the end of 2017 we were pleased to have got good news: our proposal was approved and a grant for the amount of 750.000 euros was awarded. It was decided that the project would span a two-year period, starting on March 1st 2018.”
What are the next steps?
Yves: “Quid pro quo, goes the saying. As is also the case here, European funding does not come freely, but with a number of conditions. We also have to report at regular intervals. We can – somewhat disrespectfully – say that a genuine paper-mill is set in motion. For this reason, we employed a project coordinator whose job it is to keep an overview of all activities. DG Navigation takes on that role. All other tasks are distributed among three work packages.”
What is your role in the MAiDEN project?
Sarah: “I am in charge of the first work package which combines all administrative aspects, ranging from drafting a quality management plan, reporting to Europe to keeping track of the hours worked.”
Yves: “I chair the second package, which is the technical implementation of the four proposals for improvement mentioned earlier. Since the main focus of this project is on technical aspects, the results of work package two will logically be the most visible.”
Gwen: “I am responsible for the third work package, which is researching the legal foundation for the whole project and drafting a proposal for information-exchange”.
Quite ambitious targets.
Sarah: “Luckily, as chairs of the work packages, we are not in it alone. We can count on the cooperation of a number of working groups, to which experts of the coast guard partners as well as the Coast Guard Secretariat participate.”
Are there other parties involved?
Yves: “Since no coast guard partner holds all the wisdom, we enlisted the help of two external advisors. The greatest challenges are ICT-related, namely the improvement of the information-exchanging procedures. Since the technical implementation thereof will be a huge undertaking, we hired a consultant to carry out these tasks. Additionally, we have to take into account the different natures of information (safety and security) and the strict guidelines imposed by Europe. Furthermore, we hired a so-called quality advisor to signal possible risks in time and to ensure we meet all deadlines.”
What has already been accomplished?
Gwen: “With the first few months behind us, we can say that we have not been idle. We made arrangements with Europe on the compulsory reporting and the MAiDEN project was attributed a uniform project design with a proper logo. We agreed on a timeline for the first year and drew up a quality management plan. To conclude with another saying: ‘a good start is half the job done!’.”