Ship spotter

Researchers at Battelle are working to make American ports safe from terrorists by creating an underwater sensor array that scans all ships as they enter US harbours.


Researchers at Battelle are working to make American ports safe from terrorists and international drug cartels by creating an underwater sensor array that scans all ships as they enter US harbours.


To do so, they are teaming up with researchers at the US Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) and EdgeTech Marine in a research and development programme called Harbor Shield.


The Harbor Shield system uses imaging technology to map the underwater hulls of ships as they enter harbours, scanning their bellies to detect weapons of mass destruction, mines, bundles of illegal drugs, and any other irregularities. It can detect the exact location on the hull of any abnormality as small as a square foot.


Simultaneously, topside sensors will determine the ship’s exact location in relation to the underwater sensors. The combined data will be used to create a ‘hullprint’ that will be stored in a global network.


After being scanned once and entered into the hullprint database, ships will be cross-referenced and their hullprints updated each time they sail into another American port. Eventually, Harbor Shield will contain a database of all ships that have entered American ports.


The concept of the Harbor Shield technology was proven this year in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. A full-scale demonstration of the technology is planned for mid-2009 in the same estuary.


Eventually, Harbor Shield should be capable of scanning entire harbours for every boat and swimmer. It could also benchmark ship hull maintenance, enhance hull inspections for marine growth, damage, corrosion, and paint thickness and even determine what liquids are stored within the hull.


Currently, there is no system to inspect the estimated 50,000 worldwide freighter ships as they enter American ports.


Without Harbor Shield, ships’ underwater hulls can only be inspected by divers. If a ship is deemed to require investigation, it must anchor and shut down all its engines and intakes to prevent diver injury. Divers must then hand search the hull by feeling their way along in murky water, often missing large sections of the surface.