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News about AIS (Automatic Identification System) technology can be as dull as Seattle’s Best or Starbucks coffee. However, a recent Marine NewsWire dispatch that came our way was a bit stimulating. It’s about Swedish defense and security firm Saab clinching a contract last November to deploy a coastal surveillance system covering the entire Indian mainland coast. India has a total coastline of 7,000 kms or just a fifth of the Philippines’ (36,289 km). So why hasn’t the latter gone about acquiring a similar national system?

Saab’s contract with the India Directorate General of Lighthouses and Lightships (DGLL) calls for the establishment of 74 sensor locations, six regional control centers and three national control centers, most of which will be connected by broadband satellite links. It carries the option to add another 12 sensor sites in future. All sites are to be equipped with redundant Saab AIS base stations that will identify and track the movements of ships sailing in India’s coastal waters. Saab will also deliver the network servers and CoastWatch operator software for the control centers. The system will integrate radars being supplied by another contractor.

The 116 million krona (US$16.95 million) project is due for completion in mid-2012 with Saab as prime contractor working hand in hand with its sales and service partner in India, Elcome Marine Services. For Saab, the DGLL deal is a coup of sorts as it has been aiming to expand its presence in Asia. Earlier this year, the company won a contract to supply a 150-site AIS network covering six major inland waterways in China.

Will the Philippines take a cue from India and China? Don’t bet on it. There aren’t even lighted buoys at the entrance channel to the Manila North Harbor – the country’s main domestic port – because the Philippine Ports Authority doesn’t see the urgency of replacing the units that had been stolen and rehabilitating those in a state of disrepair. The Coast Guard is actually responsible for the installation and maintenance of navigational aids but it doesn’t have the funds. This is not a question of money, though. It’s a question of a nation’s sense of priorities. ~Barista Uno

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