Thesis: Towards enhanced safety in the age of autonomous shipping

Meriam Chaal, a member of the Kotka Maritime Research Centre’s research community, will defend her doctoral thesis on 11 January 2024 at Aalto University, in the field of marine technology. The opponent will be Professor Gerasimos Theotokatos, Director of the Maritime Safety Research Centre at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom.

The thesis, titled “Advancing Safety in Autonomous Shipping Through Modern Hazard Analysis Methods: A System-Theoretic Approach”, consists of three scientific articles and a summary section.

Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) refer to vessels that rely on autonomous technologies for navigation, control, and operation. They utilize advanced sensors and communication technologies as well as machine learning and computer vision algorithms to perform various ship functions.

Autonomous vessels are expected to enhance maritime safety, ship energy efficiency, and the effectiveness of the logistics chain. “Autonomous ship systems are likely to play an increasingly important role in future shipping”, Meriam Chaal says. “The ongoing transition, however, introduces new safety challenges that necessitate rigorous risk assessment and innovative safety frameworks”, she continues.

In her thesis, Chaal first explores the historical development of risk, safety, and reliability considerations in autonomous shipping. Then, integrating a qualitative systemic hazard analysis technique (Systems Theoretic Process Analysis) with a quantitative systems and decision analysis method (Bayesian Network), she proposes and demonstrates a novel approach for conducting risk assessments of autonomous ship systems. The proposed approach is compatible with the most used maritime risk and safety assessment procedures. It supports identification of the unique risks and knowledge needs associated with autonomous navigation systems and enables evaluation and prioritization of alternative risk control measures.

“My thesis serves as a technical compass guiding the maritime industry towards enhanced safety in the age of autonomous shipping,” Meriam Chaal summarizes and continues: “As autonomy is transforming the maritime industry, the thesis contributes to setting up the foundations for standardized systems safety engineering for autonomous ships.”

Ms Chaal has conducted her thesis work as part of the Research Group on Safe and Efficient Marine and Ship Systems, led by Assistant Professor Osiris Valdez Banda, who also holds one of the Merikotka (KMRC) professorships.

The thesis summary can be downloaded from the Aaltodoc publication archive.


Written by: Annukka Lehikoinen

Doctoral thesis: A novel toolbox for risk management in maritime remote pilotage

Sunil Basnet, a member of the Kotka Maritime Research Centre’s research community, will defend his doctoral dissertation on 15 December 2023 at Aalto University in the field of marine technology. The opponent will be Professor Ioannis M. Dokas, from the Democritus University of Thrace, Greece. Mr. Basnet has conducted his thesis work as part of the Research Group on Safe and Efficient Marine and Ship Systems, led by Assistant Professor Osiris Valdez Banda, who also holds one of the Merikotka (KMRC) professorships.

The thesis, “Managing risks in maritime remote pilotage using the basis of the Formal Safety Assessment”, consists of four scientific articles and a summary section. Pilotage is a safety service intended to prevent ship accidents, providing navigational assistance by experienced pilots who know the local conditions. Remote pilotage is a relatively new concept, in which the pilot assists the ship crew from a remote location at the shore.

”The idea behind remote pilotage is to improve both safety and cost-effectiveness of the operation”, Sunil Basnet tells. “However, the implementation requires adoption of novel data and information sharing technologies both on ships, fairways, and pilot stations. The entity becoming more complex, this may lead to new emergent risks, requiring updates also in the prevailing safety control system”, he continues.

The thesis of Mr. Basnet presents a novel, improved risk management framework that provides a systematic protocol with practical analysis tools, applicable to the modern remote pilotage systems. The framework is fully compatible with the Formal Safety Assessment (FSA) process developed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), widely used in risk assessment and management in the context of maritime operations.

“This study lays strong and comprehensive foundations for effective risk management in the evolving field of remote pilotage, where there haven’t been existing risk management framework so far”, Sunil Basnet states and continues: “Method-wise, presenting a novel approach of integrating advanced systems modelling techniques, my thesis even fills some common gaps in the application of the Formal Safety Assessment. This is important for advancing the overall safety of maritime systems and operations.”

The public defense is organized 15.12.2023 at 12:00 – 16:00 in the address Otakaari 4, Espoo (auditorium 216). The event can be followed also online via Zoom.

The thesis summary can be downloaded from the Aaltodoc publication archive.


Written by: Annukka Lehikoinen

GYROSCOPE project studies digital solutions in the green transition of marine logistics

Kotka Maritime Research Centre (Merikotka) is strongly represented in a new research project GYROSCOPE. The project is funded by the Academy of Finland and has started in January 2023.

Under the 2022 call for research on key areas of green and digital transition, the Academy of Finland has granted a total of around 19 million euros of funding to projects that contribute broadly to the green and digital transition by developing new solutions to promote carbon neutrality and mitigate and adapt to climate change. The funding granted is based on the European Union’s Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) and the Sustainable Growth Programme for Finland.

The total budget of the three-year project is over two million euros. The project investigates opportunities provided by and risks associated with smart digital solutions in the context of green transition of the maritime sector.

New smart concepts and services are claimed to have a significant role in cleaner, safer, and more efficient logistics. However, the introduction of new devices and instruments across the operating environment by multiple actors may increase the risk of both technical issues and human errors. To ensure the sustainability of the digital transition, it is therefore important to proactively identify potential risks that the new smart solutions may bring along.

GYROSCOPE produces a multidimensional picture of the sustainable digital transition to low-carbon maritime logistics by applying stakeholder-participatory processes and modern risk analytics, considering alternative implementation pathways. Through a sectoral example, the project aims to understand the nature and preconditions of sustainable green transition also more generally, as well as the development picture of digitalisation as part of it.

In the project consortium, Kotka Maritime Research Centre is represented by Research Director Annukka Lehikoinen and professors Osiris Valdez Banda from Aalto University and Sakari Kuikka from the University of Helsinki. The other principal investigators are Professor Janne Hukkinen from the University of Helsinki and the consortium leader, Professor Toni Ahlqvist from the Finland Futures Research Centre of the University of Turku.


The press release and funding decisions of the Academy of Finland

Written by: Annukka Lehikoinen

Research article: new toolkit helps to develop disaster preparedness training

Researchers of the University of Helsinki, Aalto University, South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Science, and Kotka Maritime Research Association have published a scientific article presenting a new science-based toolkit for organisers of environmental disaster response trainings. The article is published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction and is one of the outputs from the Merikotka-driven project SIMREC, co-funded by the European Union.

The diversity and frequency of major environmental disasters such as hurricanes, floods, and wildfires are growing globally. Major oil and other chemical accidents form one type of environmental disasters as well. Typical for the disaster management operations is that they call for effective collaborative response activities across organisational, sectoral and, in many cases also national borders. However, different operational systems, cultures, and norms of the participating agencies may hamper the collaboration. Multi-agent disaster response simulations help creating shared understanding of how the collaborative response activities should be implemented and thereby improve preparedness and resilience of communities.

In the article, the researchers pay specific attention to shared situational awareness among the response actors as a key to successful cooperative disaster management. They suggest a novel protocol for analysing the formation of such joint awareness during the response exercises.

The suggested protocol consists of thematic series of analytical questions and practical indicators to be monitored during the response exercises. It provides the training organisers a structured framework for identifying critical issues to be practiced with a particular team, or to be developed in terms of a certain exercise. This supports the planning of optimal disaster response trainings in the future.


Written by: Annukka Lehikoinen
Photo by: Matt Hardy on Unsplash

The SIMREC seminar brought together experts in oil spill response and maritime simulators

The two-day conference brought together experts and researchers of oil spill response and maritime simulator training from the Baltic Sea countries. During the event, simulator-based oil spill response exercises and the opportunities they could offer for improving both national and international preparedness were elaborated.


The international conference organized in Kotka 22.–23.11. examined the results of the SIMREC project (Simulator for Improving Cross-Border Oil Spill Response in Extreme Conditions) and created an overview of future cooperation opportunities. The conference was opened by Research Director Ville Henttu from South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences (Xamk). Henttu brought up the topicality of the project in the current security situation of the Baltic Sea and saw good opportunities for closer international cooperation based on the results. He also estimated that even though increasingly moving away from fossil fuels, the society will not be able to get rid of oil and its transportation in the very near future, thus the project’s results and development work will be relevant for a long time to come.


Ville Henttu opened the SIMREC seminar held at Maritime Centre Vellamo. Photo: Justiina Halonen.


Towards better preparedness with training, research and international cooperation

Pollution Response Expert Heli Haapasaari from the Finnish Border Guard served as a keynote speaker and commentator of the conference. In her opening speech, Haapasaari described the current status and future development targets of Finland’s oil spill response preparedness. As areas to be developed, she brought up the information needs related to new, greener fuels: their behavior in the sea, collectability and the necessary oil recovery equipment. According to Haapasaari, more attention should also be paid to oil spill response capabilities in challenging environmental conditions.

Haapasaari emphasized the importance of international cooperation in the prevention of oil spills in the Baltic Sea, reminding that it is not realistic to expect any state alone to maintain the level of preparedness that would be required to manage the currently plausible worst-case spill scenario. On the other hand, when planning common preparedness, it is necessary to consider the special conditions of the northern Baltic Sea: the vast majority of oil spill response vessels in the region are such that they cannot operate in ice and thus cannot be relied on in the winter conditions of the northernmost sea areas.

Haapasaari highlighted the importance of oil spill response rehearsals: in terms of oil spill preparedness, training is the only way to strengthen the skills needed, because – fortunately – leakages are so rare that the experience gained through the real-life operations is very limited. Exercises are organized under several umbrellas, for example under Helcom and Copenhagen agreements, and based on bilateral agreements between states. However, resources are limited and Haapasaari saw the need for additional exercises and various research and development projects as significant.


Maritime simulators as additional resources for oil spill response training

In their talks, SIMREC researchers and experts presented the results obtained in the project and the developed solutions for utilizing simulators in oil spill response training. The bridge simulators, jointly owned by Xamk and Ekami vocational school, with their oil spill management and ice navigation functionalities have provided the project with a development and testing environment. The joint report of the SIMREC consortium was also announced at the seminar. The report compiles the main results of the project into a road map of eight recommendations to support the design and organization of effective simulator-based oil spill response training.

Research Director Annukka Lehikoinen from the Kotka Maritime Research Centre (Merikotka) emphasized in her talk how even a small oil spill can have irreversible effects on the sensitive ecosystem of the Baltic Sea. As long as oil is transported and ships use it as fuel, the risk of oil accidents exists. Whether the oil can be recovered at sea or whether it drifts to the shores has a huge impact on the harm and costs resulting from the accident. For this reason, maintaining and developing oil spill response readiness is highly important.

Researcher Ossi Tonteri from the Finnish Environmental Institute (SYKE) had investigated the oil spill response readiness of the Baltic Sea states through a literature review and presented the results of the RETOS™ survey of the Baltic Sea states. It seems there is room for improvement specifically in terms of response training activities in all the analyzed countries. Tonteri suggested that maritime simulators with oil spill response elements could provide a cost-effective option to increase the training activity.

Simulator training is indeed an effective tool for developing oil spill response competency, but it requires the organizers carefully define the target group -specific learning objectives and create plausible exercise scenarios relevant to these objectives. Senior Maritime Lecturer Antti Lanki from Xamk presented the operating model used in the SIMREC project for planning simulator-based exercises. The operating model has been under development at Xamk since 2016. The model is based on a training needs survey and its functionality has been tested in national exercises. Now, in the SIMREC project, the protocol was internationalized.

To develop realistic training scenarios, the SIMREC project used advanced risk modeling technology. Based on a probability calculus using vessel traffic data, a collision involving an oil tanker could be expected to occur in the Gulf of Finland area approximately every 13 years, said Post-doctoral Researcher Liangliang Lu from Aalto University. With the help of the risk analysis model, Lu was also able to show the areas of the highest risk of ship collision-induced oil accidents in the Gulf of Finland sea area and could estimate the most likely leak volumes. This information was utilized in the scenario planning of the simulator exercises organized in the SIMREC project.

Exercises should be systematically observed to evaluate their functionality and, on the other hand, also analyze the performance of the learners. By actively utilizing this information even better exercises can be developed and the additional training needs identified, which enables the development of customized long-term training programs for different groups of operators. Post-doctoral Researcher Mirka Laurila-Pant from the University of Helsinki told the seminar audience about the significance of shared situational awareness in successful crisis management operations and presented a protocol developed in the SIMREC project for observing and analysing its formation during various rehearsals.


Watch a 13-minute film on the project results and an exercise organised in May 2022:

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Future prospects for international cooperation

Unit Leader Robert Grundmann from Fraunhofer Center for Maritime Logistics and Services (Fraunhofer CML) told how the European Maritime Simulator Network (EMSN) was established ten years ago and how the activities and opportunities have developed and expanded since then. With the EMSN connection, maritime simulator centers operating in different countries, nowadays even on different continents, can carry out joint exercises in a shared virtual environment. The EMSN connection also served as a channel for the SIMREC exercises. Grundmann also introduced new opportunities for interaction in simulator environment provided by the different types of virtual reality.

The elaboration of cooperation opportunities between simulator centers in the Baltic Sea region in the context of oil spill response was continued with an expert panel involving Grundmann and Lanki, accompanied by Jarmo Kõster, director of the simulator center in the Estonian Maritime Academy under Tallinn University of Technology, and Johanna Salokannel, project manager representing Novia University of Applied Sciences and the Aboa Mare simulator center. The audience and Heli Haapasaari also commented on the discussion.

As a result of the discussion, it can be summed up a number of technical investments would still be needed to organise joint oil spill management exercises by the participating simulator centers, as the simulator center in Kotka is the most advanced in terms of the special functionalities required for such training. On the other hand, it was noted that there are a number of other elements in the spill response management operations that could be practiced using the strengths of each simulator center and educational institution. Such could be, for example, simulations related to multicultural communication or the coordination of oil spill operations. The simulations could also help in designing optimal international field rehearsals, such as the annual Balex Delta exercise.


In the panel discussion, maritime simulation experts (starting from right) Johanna Salokannel (Novia), Jarmo Kõster (Estonian Maritime Academy), Antti Lanki (Xamk) and Robert Grundmann (Fraunhofer CML) with the moderator Annukka Lehikoinen (Merikotka). Photo: Justiina Halonen.


Real-life demonstrations

On the second day of the seminar, Antti Lanki presented the Xamk-Ekami simulator center to the seminar audience and demonstrated a boom deployment and towing exercise in a simulator environment. The center’s bridge simulators simulate relatively realistically the experience of operating oil spill response vessels in varying conditions at sea. In the simulation environment, the vessels can work together, interacting with each other. The in-water behavior of oil and oil booms under different wind conditions and wave heights are represented logically, too. Combined with the real-life communications technology and other operational tools to support the creation of shared situational awareness, bridge simulators appear to provide an effective environment for experimenting and practicing various oil spill response scenarios and tasks.

After a joint lunch, the seminar guests were transported to Finland’s only oil spill response test basin, operated by Xamk. The basin is a former wastewater aeration basin, provided for Xamk’s R&D use by Kymen Vesi Ltd. Facilities have been built to study how different oil types behave in water and can be collected using different collection devices and methods. Research Manager Justiina Halonen together with Project Manager Antero Myrén and R&D Expert Manu Kettunen carried out an oil recovery demonstration to illustrate the properties of marine diesel oil affecting the performance of the oil recovery skimmers. The guests were also provided demonstrations on how new types of fuels behave when spilled on water.


Demonstrations of oil spill behaviour at Xamk’s oil spill response test basin. Photos: Annukka Lehikoinen.


Future plans

As a result of the two-day seminar, it was concluded that it is desirable to maintain the established network of experts and continue the joint development of the initiated ideas.  The results of the SIMREC project were seen to be relevant and important even up to the Helcom level. The seminar created an excellent basis for the planning of new joint projects, as manifold needs and opportunities for cooperation and joint development were identified.


Written by Justiina Halonen ja Annukka Lehikoinen. (Translated from a Finnish original version)

Halonen works as a research manager at South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences. Lehikoinen is the research director of the Kotka Maritime Research Centre (Merikotka).

A road map for designing simulator-based oil spill response trainings published

The fourth report in the Kotka Maritime Research Centre publication series is out! Researchers and experts of the SIMREC project have today published a joint report titled as Designing effective simulator-based oil spill response trainings for improved performance, preparedness, and societal resilience. Based on the work conducted and lessons learned during the three-year project, the report provides information, tools and recommendations to support the design and construction of effective simulator-based oil spill response trainings for various teams.

If a major oil spill materializes on the Baltic Sea, it is of utmost importance that different ac­tors can, both nationally and internationally, join their forces and react fast and effectively to minimize its negative impacts to people and environment. The successful implementation of such complex multi-organizational processes under heavy time pressure is based on skilled and experienced operative teams. The development of such teams requires frequent joint exercises and training.

The report states that today’s bridge simulators can provide an effective, cost-effective, and safe envi­ronment for testing and practising various joint tasks related to oil spill management. Applied complementarily to authentic on-board exercises with real vessels, the authors suggest simulator-based training programmes bear strong potential for improving the oil spill response readiness of the Baltic Sea countries, thus also developing societal resilience against oil accidents.

The report is a joint effort of the researchers and experts from the South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences (Xamk), University of Helsinki, Aalto University, and Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE). It is edited by Merikotka’s research director Annukka Lehikoinen. Project SIMREC has been led by Kotka Maritime Research Association and co-funded by the European Union together with the participating organizations.

Access the report by clicking the LINK.


Written by: Annukka Lehikoinen

Doctoral dissertation: Systems modelling can support the sustainable development of maritime traffic

The examination of MSc Emilia Luoma’s doctoral thesis in environmental sciences was organized at the University of Helsinki on October 28, 2022. Professor Nina Tynkkynen from Åbo Akademi’s Faculty of Social Sciences, Business and Economics acted as the opponent. The research behind the dissertation has been conducted as part of the projects 30MILES and COMPLETE, led by Kotka Maritime Research Centre (Merikotka). Merikotka’s research director, Associate Professor (Docent) Annukka Lehikoinen was the main supervisor of Luoma’s work.

The thesis, “Developing sustainability through systems thinking – Perspectives to maritime traffic” consists of four scientific articles and a summary section. The entity aims to increase the systemic understanding related to sustainability and sustainable development by applying causal network modeling methods. The case study topics through which the subject is approached in the articles are the management of the biofouling on ships and the sustainable development of marinas. In the summary section Luoma concludes on how causal network modeling methods can help identify factors and measures that prevent or promote sustainability and sustainable development.

“Based on the results, I would say that both qualitative and numerical causal network models support the conceptualization and structuring of sustainability issues in a versatile way,” Luoma states and continues: “My statement is that such a systemic review can increase the understanding of who should be involved in the discussion, what information is needed and what aspects should be considered in order to make decisions that promote sustainable development. The visual representation of the models can also promote the participation of stakeholders and open communication”.

At the dissertation event, Opponent Tynkkynen praised Luoma’s cross-disciplinary thesis as containing information useful for planning and policymaking purposes and offering fresh perspectives on the topic of maritime traffic, which is usually considered from a rather technical perspective. Tynkkynen also hoped that corresponding, non-traditional, and cross-disciplinary approaches could be included in the coming update of the national strategy for maritime research in Finland.

The thesis summary can be downloaded from the University of Helsinki’s publication archive Helda.


Written by: Annukka Lehikoinen

Research article: a decision analysis model to compare biofouling management strategies

Researchers of the Merikotka-driven COMPLETE and COMPLETE PLUS projects published a scientific article where they present a multi-criteria decision analysis model to compare alternative biofouling management strategies in the Baltic Sea. The article is a joint effort of the KMRC researchers from the groups of the University of Helsinki, South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Science, and the Kotka Maritime Research Association, in collaboration with Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE), Natural Resources Institute Finland (LUKE), Chalmers University of Technology, and University of Klaipeda.

Biofouling management helps to prevent the spread of potentially harmful non-native species but is important also in terms of ships’ fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. The main biofouling management methods in use are regular cleaning of the underwater parts of vessels, and diverse biocidal or non-biocidal hull coatings. The ecological and environmental risks associated with different solutions and their combinations should be acknowledged when selecting case-specifically sustainable management strategies. In addition, the special characteristics of the Baltic Sea, such as the partial ice coverage in winter, restrict the applicability of some solutions in the area.

The researchers developed a model that enables case-specific comparison of the biofouling control strategies in relation to the risk of new non-indigenous species introductions in different parts of the Baltic Sea, the eco-toxicological risk due to biocidal hull coatings, and the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that increase along the growing friction caused by the organisms attaching the ship’s hull. In addition, for each analyzed scenario, the model estimates the monetary costs for the shipping company, arising from the fuel consumption and the evaluated control options.

In the article, the researchers demonstrate how, with the careful consideration of the hull fouling management strategy, both money and environment can be saved. Biocidal-free coating combined with regular in-water cleaning, using a device to collect the detached organic material, provides a sustainable alternative. However, the optimal biocidal-free coating type and in-water cleaning interval should be evaluated case-specifically.  In some cases, biocidal coating with less regular in-water cleaning appears to be a justifiable solution but even then, the copper concentration and release rate from the coating should be adjusted to the low-salinity conditions of the Baltic Sea.

The article is published in the journal Science of the total environment and is freely available. It is part of the KMRC-researcher Emilia Luoma’s PhD study she conducts as part of the research group of the University of Helsinki. In her thesis Luoma applies participatory system modeling methods to examine environmental and sustainability issues related to marine traffic in the Baltic Sea.


Written by: Emilia Luoma and Annukka Lehikoinen