The Maritime Support Services (MSS) Centre is a 24/7 facility located at EMSA headquarters in Lisbon. It comprises six work stations, a large video wall and a support room with computers for use in emergencies and for other meetings. It is set up in such a way that MSS Officers (MSSOs) can, at all times, have access to the latest information from each of the systems. This is particularly important as they need to be able to quickly react to any urgent information related to the IT systems (maritime applications) or maritime emergencies, at the same time as carrying out their regular day-to-day work. In maritime emergencies, additional experts can be brought into the support room to work closely with the MSSOs if necessary.
Due to the extensive range of tasks that need to be carried out (sometimes more maritime-oriented, and sometimes more IT-related), MSSOs are selected with appropriate mixes of skills.
The IT-related MSSOs work on a rota basis that involves 3 x 8 hour shifts (07:00-15:00, 15:00-23:00 and 23:00-07:00) per day for 365 days per year, while the maritime-oriented MSSOs work a range of daytime hours which enables them to efficiently respond to the needs of users during their normal working hours around the European Union. All MSSOs work with a full set of procedures which, given the regular growth in the requirements, need to be continually updated. In order to ensure that the procedures are followed correctly at all times, those involved in shift work use a check list in order to ensure that, for every change of shift, the necessary basic tasks are carried out.
Also, to support each change of shift, a handover document is completed so that the main information can be passed on efficiently. This is of particular importance in times of emergency, or when emergency-related exercises are underway.
The main day-to-day task of the MSS is the provision of support to: the SafeSeaNet EU vessel traffic monitoring and information system; the LRIT global ship tracking system (i.e. the EU LRIT Data Centre, the EU Ship database and the International Data Exchange) and; the CleanSeaNet oil spill monitoring and vessel detection system. Other systems are also monitored by the MSS, such as the THETIS port state control database, the BlueBelt customs pilot system and the IMDatE integrated maritime surveillance platform. The work involves the following:
• Monitoring of system performance
• Data quality assessment
Administration of systems
• Administration and validation of user accounts, access rights and digital certificates
• Administration and validation of reference lists
• Reporting and statistics on system data, system activity and performance
• Support to development teams (in testing new software releases, compiling feedback from users on corrections and identifying future developments).
• Receiving calls and requests relating to the operation of the systems
• Assisting users in operating the system or accessing the information
• Informing users in case of problems, new releases, upgrades or programmed maintenance of the system
• Providing an alert function to address major technical failures, or risk of failure, and also monitoring the resolution of problems.
In addition to its system monitoring and support role, the MSS is also EMSA's coordination centre for maritime emergencies. It is the single point of contact via which Member States and the European Commission can request support when there has been an accident or incident at sea.
On an around-the-clock basis, MSS Officers monitor emergency-related systems in order to provide an early warning to key people so that they know when support may be needed. The information comes from Member States in the form of POLREPs (for pollution-related incidents) and SITREPs (for safety-related incidents), and also from external accident/incident monitoring systems and the 24/7 emergency telephone/fax/email system.
When there is substantial oil pollution at sea, the MSS immediately notifies the EMSA oil pollution response vessel services so that the appropriate vessels can be activated. These have a surface oil recovery capacity which is much larger than most Member State oil pollution response vessels, and they are contracted to be fully equipped and available to sail to a spill within 24 hours. The MSS also provides additional support, as required, for the duration of the emergency.
The MSS will also provide information on the emergency to EMSA management and decision makers in the EU institutions and elsewhere, so that they are kept fully informed of developments at all times. MSSOs also take part in regular exercises with Member States and contractors in order to ensure that the system is always in an effective state of preparedness to deal with the many different types of emergency.