USA Banner

Official US Government Icon

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure Site Icon

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Site Notification

Site Notification

U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

African Nations Gain Vessel-Tracking Skills

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Volpe hosted nine representatives from Cape Verde, Senegal, and Tanzania for six weeks from July through August to teach them how to install and maintain the Volpe-developed vessel tracking system that can help African nations combat criminal maritime activities.

The 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama brought piracy to the American consciousness, but coastal governments in Africa have been dealing with criminal issues like piracy, drug smuggling, and illegal fishing for decades.

While there are many ways to combat criminal maritime activities, one solution to reduce crime and improve economic opportunities along the African coastline is known as maritime domain awareness (MDA).

Sponsored by the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), this Volpe MDA training taught operators and technicians (who will return to their respective militaries as trainers) how to do the following:

  • Install MDA sensors and hardware
  • Use the tracking software
  • Apply vessel tracking to reduce crime and reap economic benefits
  • Maintain the tracking systems without outside assistance
Representatives from African nations learn how to install and maintain a Volpe-developed vessel tracking system.
Nine representatives from Cape Verde, Senegal, and Tanzania learn how to install and maintain a Volpe-developed vessel tracking system that can help African nations combat criminal maritime activities. (Volpe photo)

Volpe’s involvement with MDA technology can be traced back almost a decade with the development of a freely-shared, unclassified, near-real-time data collection and distribution network known as the Maritime Safety and Security Information System (MSSIS).

With the vessel tracking groundwork in place, Volpe developed a common operational display called SeaVision. The goal: to allow the United States Naval Forces Africa, the naval component of AFRICOM, to share the display and improve MDA with its partner nations on the African coastline.

Screenshot of Seavision showing a ship off the African coast.SeaVision has evolved as a result of a series of exercises with the African militaries. These exercises allowed Volpe to work closely with users, which has provided a better understanding of users' needs and requirements, enabling engineers to build better capabilities into the system.

As some of the deployed systems fell into disuse and MDA remained lacking in African partner nations, AFRICOM asked Volpe to hold an on-site comprehensive six-week training workshop.

Benefits of the Training

According to Henry Wychorski, a Volpe engineer who helped lead the training, “The issue has always been the sustainment piece. These systems would be put in place, but no one really ever extolled the benefits. Why is it something that’s worthwhile? How can it be applied to help them meet their challenges with things like illegal fishing and piracy? For this training, we taught them the benefits and how to put it into operational use, how to apply it to their daily jobs, and how to repair the system so it doesn’t rust away.”

For the training, AFRICOM identified Cape Verde, Senegal, and Tanzania as critical to improving MDA across Africa.

Cape Verde, an island nation located off the coast of West Africa, is situated along a known narcotics shipping route that runs from South America to Europe, and a $100 million cocaine bust off its coast in 2011 relied on the vessel tracking system developed by Volpe. Senegal, also on the west coast of Africa, has issues with illegal fishing, and Tanzania, on the east coast of Africa, struggles with piracy as well as illegal fishing.

After gaining a thorough understanding of the MDA systems in Africa, and after six weeks at Volpe, the participants returned home with a comprehensive guidebook on how to install and use the vessel tracking system. The participants also received reference materials that will help them teach others within their agencies.

“Overall the training went really well. The project management section in particular went over well,” Wychorski said. “Most of the students were technicians, but, even still, the project management course ended up going over big. Along with Volpe staff, we had some great guest instructors. The success of this training speaks to our preparation with AFRICOM and to the students’ enthusiasm and professionalism.”

A screen shot of a Volpe-developed vessel-tracking system.