Website appears for LRIT maritime system

North Korea appears to have taken the first steps towards putting a data center online for the maritime Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) system.

The LRIT system was created by the International Maritime Organization in May 2006 and requires passenger and cargo ships automatically report their identity and location at least four times a day. LRIT aids in the global identification and tracking of ships and is part of the shipping industry’s answer to piracy.

In the last few days a website has appeared within North Korea’s IP address space that carriers the single English-language message: “Welcome to LRIT National Data Center Developmental Web Service.” The web page carriers no other information or identification.

The website has the address, lrit-dc.star.net.kp. The first portion of the address, LRIT-DC, corresponds to “LRIT data center.” (The remainder of the address refers to Star, the joint-venture Internet provided formed by DPRK’s telecom administration and Thailand’s Loxley Pacific.)

But the most conclusive evidence to the site’s purpose can be found within its security certificate (right), which is used to guarantee encrypted connections to the site.

It was issued by the International Maritime Organization on Feb. 4, 2011, to the “DPR Korea National Data Centre.”

You can access the entire certificate by connecting to the website and using the controls in your web browser.

Data centers play an important role in the LRIT system. According to the International Maritime Safety Organization:

The primary purposes of an LRIT Data Centre (DC) are to collect, store and make available to authorised entities the LRIT information transmitted by ships instructed by their administrations to utilise the services of that DC. In carrying out these core functions, the DC is required to ensure that LRIT data users are only provided with the LRIT information they are entitled to receive under the terms of SOLAS Regulation V/19.1. — IMSO website.

So who will be able to access information from North Korea’s LRIT system? The IMSO adds:

LRIT information is provided to Contracting Governments and Search and Rescue services entitled to receive the information, upon request, through a system of National, Regional, and Co operative LRIT Data Centres, using where necessary, the International LRIT Data Exchange. — IMSO website.

Access to the data is restricted to four categories of potential user:

  1. Governments are entitled to access information about ships flying their flags wherever they are in the world
  2. Governments of port states can access information if a ship has indicated it intends to call at a port
  3. Governments of coastal states can gain access to ships intending to navigate within 1,000 nautical miles of their coast “subject to certain restrictions”
  4. Search and rescue services can receive free information pertaining to rescue operations of those in distress at sea

The data only pertains to the location of the vessel and not its cargo, so situations like 2009’s chase of the Kang Nam in the seas of East Asia might not be changed by the availability of LRIT information.

North Korea said last year that it was already equipped with the ability to access the LRIT system.

A KCNA report from April 27, 2010, covered the creation of the “Maritime Rescue Coordination Center” and noted:

The center, fully equipped with modern information and communication facilities for SAR (search and rescue) and LRIT (long-range identification and tracking of ships) suitable to conventions and rules concerning international maritime affairs, traces vessels on the ocean and informs related countries of their position in time to ensure their voyage safety. — KCNA, April 27, 2010.

Exactly what will be added to the new website remains unclear.

The site is the latest in a slowly growing list of North Korea websites. In the last six months, the country’s official news agency has launched a website and the Korea Computer Center’s Naenara site has returned to the Internet.

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