The maritime domain is at the heart of economic growth and development: it is historically the main vector for commercial exchanges and represents a tremendous source of natural resources. For these reasons, for centuries, the oceans domination has been the driver for developing Navigation means, from the Phoenicians and their knowledge of using polar star to the longitude act and of course GNSS.

Worldwide Maritime Traffic Density (source Marine Traffic)

Today, basic navigation over the oceans is getting simple thanks to GNSS system. However, oceans still represent an extraordinary area of commercial trade, subjects to security and safety issues, as well as illegal activities development. Modern GNSS technology, like Galileo, can bring more than mere navigation. Galileo can contribute to transform and improve Maritime activities thanks to its unique features bringing more safety and security over the seas.

Galileo Search and Rescue Services / COSPAS-SARSAT

The GAMBAS project will address the major aspects of the maritime domain safety and security:

  • Piracy acts
  • Distress at sea
  • Illegal activities, including illegal fishing and drug dealing
  • Emergency Warning (ex: Weather emergencies)
Main Maritime Issues in the world


The areas of piracy and attacks at sea change with the evolution of populations and the deployment of military forces. Between 2000 and 2010, the major piracy spot was in the Aden Gulf, but the number of attacks decreased and new spots appeared, first, in South-East Asia and now in the Gulf of Guinea and the Caribbean Sea.

The last report from International Maritime Bureau presents the evolution from 2014 to 2018:

Evolution of Piracy Acts between 2014 and 2020
Regional analysis of acts of piracy in 20195
Regional analysis of acts of piracy in 2020

The version of the IMO annual report on acts of piracy for 2019 draws attention on evolution that reflects several significant trends:

  • A global decreasing trend in West Africa (Gulf of Guinea) with 67 incidents (81 in 2018) but with an increasing trend of incidents involving hostage, kidnapping and missing crew with 20 incidents (11 in 2018). This is the highest number so far since 1996.
  • A significant increasing of piracy acts in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore (South East Asia) with 45 incidents (8 only in 2018),
  • A significant decreasing trend in South China Sea by 50% with 34 incidents (68 in 2018),
  • Still a major trend in South America, with 29 incidents.

The report reveals that the total number of crew reported as taken hostage/kidnapped or missing in 2019 is the highest in the last five years at 173 crew members: 87% of whom where kidnapped in West Africa, followed by the Souht China Sea and South America regions.

The version of the IMO annual report on acts of piracy for 2020 draws attention on evolutions that reflects several significant trends:

  • A global new increasing trend in West Africa (Gulf of Guinea) with 90 incidents (67 in 2019) plus a confirmation of the increasing trend of incidents involving hostage, kidnapping and missing crew with 22 incidents (20 in 2019). This is the highest number so far since 1996.
  • Piracy acts in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore (South East Asia) remained roughly at same level with 2019 with 48 incidents (45 in 2019),
  • A small increase trend in South China Sea with 37 incidents (34 in 2019),
  • Unchanged trend in South America, with 29 incidents.
MICA Center Piracy figures 2021

Regarding 2021, the IMO annual report is not yet available but report from MICA Center shows that there is a global decrease in piracy acts. The main reason for this decrease seems to be the Coordinated Maritime Presence (coordinated military forces deployed mainly in Gulf of Guinea), but this tendancy remains to be confirmed as it could also be explained by the bad weather conditions faced during Summer and beginning of Autumn in these regions. The Gulf of Guinea still is te main region concerned by this issue

Cospas-Sarsat SSAS discrete anti-piracy beacon optimization : thanks to Galileo MEOSAR, there is a significant room to improve the transmission of the discrete anti-piracy beacon, which was initially designed for LEOSAR, and then with a non-continuous constellation coverage and without return-link, while this has changes in Galileo MEOSAR context, in particular combined with the RLS.


Maritime SAR events are by far the most common events in search and rescue events. According to the Cospas/Sarsat annual SAR statistics report released in December 2020, maritime reperesent 41% of the SAR events from September 1982 to December 2019. Here is the spread of SAR events by type of distress:

Cospas Sarsat SAR operations from Jan to Dec 20

Galileo Return Link Services and the Operational Concepts developed in the frame of the project, shall:

  • Ensure better SAR responses (decreased time and more complete information),
  • Decreased workload for SAR forces during the preparation phase of the operations,
  • Ensure better communication between stakeholders (Ship owner, crew, SAR forces, institutions),
  • Increase confidence on the side of the beacon user.


All countries, regardless of their location, depend on the safety of the oceans and waters. As confirmed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, freedom of navigation is considered a vital principle of international law. Whether coastal or landlocked, states can be affected by the impact of threats posed at sea or international waters such as piracy and armed robbery, terrorism, drug trafficking and trafficking in nuclear materials and firearms, human trafficking and migrant smuggling, waste trafficking and illegal activities in the fisheries sector. 

As commercial air travel decreased and land border controls increased in 2020 due to COVID-19, illicit drug trafficking on maritime and waterway routes accelerated in Europe, Latin America, North Africa, and South-East Asia. According to UNODC’s 2021 World Drug Report, record shipments of cocaine were seized in European ports during the pandemic.

Illegal unregulated and unauthorized (IUU) fishing is also a major concern. Application of international regulation on fishing agreements is uneasy to control and only 6% of the illegal fishing frauds are estimated to be detected.

Robustness to jamming and spoofing: most of signalling and positioning systems are based on GNSS (with the exception of the Cospas-Sarsat beacons), so that GNSS jamming and spoofing is a key asset for illegal activities as it disturbs the information and warning systems. GNSS navigation services provides additional capabilities to fight against jamming (multi-frequencies) and spoofing (in particular with the future introduction of authentication functionalities in Galileo signals), whose integration will then provide complementary data to validate the quality and integrity of GNSS positioning, and then provide robustness to the associated applications.

COSPAS-SARSAT. Return Link through GALILEO


In terms of weather emergency, as shown by the extreme meteorological events in the past years, the transmission of Emergency Warning to the largest possible population (increased penetration) in a minimum time is crucial. With the combination of population increase and climate change effects, these extreme natural events are expected to have more and more impact in the future.

Weather Emergency Example

The transmission of emergency warning messages in GNSS signals has been firstly proposed and developed in Japan, mainly for the tsunami warnings. It is now available in their regional QZSS system since 2018 for Japan extended regional area. The development within Galileo is currently agreed and will provide a worldwide early warning service coverage.

There are multiple advantages of a GNSS-based solution for Emergency Warning Service:

  • The penetration of the receiver technology is excellent: most of the smartphones are already equipped with a GNSS chipset, and GNSS reception is also found in car, vessel or aircraft navigation vessels. We can anticipate that implementing the first global GNSS Emergency Warning Service on Galileo will speed up the use and the adoption of Galileo in the GNSS receivers. It is then possible to broadcast the alerting messages to a large proportion of the threatened population. The battery consumption of GNSS tracking with the modern technologies is very low; it is then not disturbing for a user to keep its receiver on, even when not using it for navigation.
  • It is a satellite-based solution, then it can transmit messages to population in remote areas (deserts, oceans, high mountains…) and despite the possible destruction of the ground infrastructure (example of multiple hurricanes on the same area in 2017 for instance).
  • A GNSS-based solution can be very efficiently combined with a geo-targeting of the warning distribution. Indeed, it is important for such systems to minimize impact on population that are outside the area. With a geographic description of the area, as any user both receives the message and knows their position thanks to the GNSS, the sorting is immediate.
  • The message shall be a worldwide standard. It means that for any event and any emergency warning provider at the origin of the message, any citizen in the area will receive and understand the message transmitted by Galileo. Some parts of the message may still refer or point to a national database (for instance the emergency meeting points), but the part of the message which describe the event will remain understandable in any case.
  • In a second step, it could be possible to add more messages in other channels than E1 OS, either in E5b or in other more secure channels, to support the operation of the rescue and emergency management teams.
  • Last but not least, it will be free of charge for the end user.


Thanks to its consortium with Spanish, French and Greek companies, GAMBAS project will in particular focus on the Mediterranean Sea. Even if piracy does nearly not exist in this sea, illegal activities are still present, and it is a key area for the maritime commercial domain.

Mediterranean Sea. Satellite View.

The Mediterranean Sea bears indeed 30 % of global sea-borne trade in volume from or into its more than 450 ports and terminals, and a quarter of worldwide sea-borne oil traffic. Its coasts are home to more than 150 million inhabitants, a figure which doubles during the tourist season. Half of the EU’s fishing fleet is active there, mostly small-sized and artisanal, together with an increasing marine aquaculture production.

Mediterranean Sea Traffic Density

Pressure on fish stocks is also exerted by vessels from the Southern Mediterranean and non-EU countries. This very high pressure from economic activities in the Mediterranean ecosystem continues to grow. While the sector is seriously affected by the current economic crisis, it is expected that maritime traffic will eventually continue to expand further as a result of increased transportation needs for passengers, tourists and goods including energy. Cruise tourism, for example, has been developing rapidly, with major Mediterranean ports welcoming annually more than 1 million cruise tourists each.

The vulnerable marine environment in the Mediterranean Sea faces a worrying combination of pollution from land sources and ships, litter, impacts on biodiversity, over-fishing and coastal degradation. The Mediterranean Sea has been classified, under MARPOL, as ‘special areas’ for oil since 1983 and for garbage since May 2009. The Union for the Mediterranean has highlighted among its priorities the de-pollution of the Mediterranean.

Seaborne irregular immigration is a major concern in the region, calling for co-operation with Mediterranean partners to counter the phenomenon and prevent losses of human lives. Based on figures to mid-September 2018, the deadliest year so far has been 2018, with one death for every 49 people who arrived in the EU.

Finally, the Mediterranean Sea is an entrance point for drugs (cannabis, cocaine and heroin). For instance, in 2014, 17 cargo have been intercepted and the dealers are now diversifying the kind of vessels (fishing, yacht,…).

For these reasons, the contributions of GAMBAS technologies, in particular authentication and short-messaging, to maritime safety and security, will be addressed in the Mediterranean context, through workshops and demonstrations.

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