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United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Maritime Safety and Security Information System (MSSIS)

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center used its data and system engineering expertise to develop a maritime domain awareness (MDA) network known as the Maritime Safety and Security Information System (MSSIS) for the U.S. Navy Sixth Fleet.

MSSIS is a low-cost, unclassified, near real-time network that is used to track vessels as they traverse the world’s waterways.

Countries that employ MSSIS in their shipping operations are able to share data from Automatic Identification Systems (AIS).

The primary goal of MSSIS is to increase maritime safety and security through a comprehensive situational awareness display of vessels equipped with AIS.

Today, more than 75 countries have joined the MSSIS network, which has significantly improved maritime safety and economic stability for participating countries. The system currently tracks more than 70,000 vessels and continues to be an invaluable tool for security forces globally, providing support for international military operations and joint exercises as well as search-and-rescue missions.

This effort has furthered Volpe’s historical work in the development of MDA networks, such as its innovative work on the Panama Canal and Saint Lawrence Seaway.

The Challenge

Maintaining timely and accurate maritime domain awareness posed a dilemma for the U.S. Navy for a number of years. Prior to implementing MSSIS and AIS technology, the U.S. Navy had a very limited view of the nation’s coastline and of the number and destinations of ships traversing U.S. and international waters.

However, Volpe stepped up to the challenge. Working closely with NATO and the U.S. Navy, Volpe quickly built and first deployed the MSSIS network in 2006, providing users with streaming and real-time information of global vessel movement.

Volpe’s work disproved industry experts who predicted that the project would take years and cost tens of millions of dollars.

The Solution

Technical staff at Volpe leveraged their network and system engineering expertise to promote collaboration and data-sharing between countries, increasing maritime security and safety around the globe. In addition to growing the MSSIS network to more than 75 international participants, the Volpe team has made numerous enhancements to Transview (TV32), the MSSIS display client, and completing a rigorous security information process for the MSSIS server suite and component software applications.

Volpe is also applying MSSIS technology to other areas. Volpe technical experts are working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service to develop a capability to identify vessels that exceed established speed limits in right whale migration areas, helping NOAA Fisheries reduce the number of collisions between ships and North Atlantic right whales.

The Impact

Since the initial deployment of MSSIS, Volpe has been at the center of discussions on the benefits of global maritime domain awareness with countries and agencies across the globe. Along with aiding maritime traffic flow, MSSIS has been an invaluable tool in fighting drug smuggling, human trafficking, piracy, and global terrorism.

The impact of MSSIS on improving and sustaining global maritime domain awareness can be seen in the following results:

  • Shared global data: Countries joining the MSSIS network immediately realize its benefits. Transview serves as a common system interface and vessel tracking display, providing a variety of standalone display features that also function as a gateway for participants to access and contribute to the aggregated, global data.
  • Tropical storm rescue: In September 2011, Tropical Storm Nate damaged an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico and set it adrift with 10 workers aboard. The Mexican Navy used MSSIS to track the drifting platform and execute command and control for the rescue operation from Mexico City.
  • $100 million cocaine bust: In October 2011, during a multi-day joint operation between Cape Verde and U.S. law enforcement, authorities used MSSIS to identify a cargo vessel offloading 1.5 tons of cocaine in Cape Verde, Africa. Volpe deployed and maintained the AIS system in Cape Verde and developed MSSIS, which was used to facilitate the $100 million drug seizure.
  • Expanding Mexico's maritime picture: Volpe staff built Mexico's AIS system from scratch, working directly with the U.S. Northern Command and the Mexican Navy to install 36 AIS receive stations around the country. This project, which began in 2009 and was completed in 2012, has allowed Mexico to move from more labor-intensive methods of keeping up their waters to taking part in MSSIS, which has increased efficiency and significantly expanded the country's maritime picture.


U.S. Navy Sixth Fleet

Last updated: Thursday, April 1, 2021