Decisions concerning the exchange of information are of a highly sensitive nature because they may lead to negative repercussions related to the national security and defence, and/or sometimes influence in the exploitation of natural resources. Conversely, not exchanging information could also lead to detrimental consequences as authorities depend on timely access to accurate and up-to-date information and intelligence in order to prevent, detect and investigate criminal/coercive activities, especially acts of terrorism. That said, if and when States decide to exchange information, internally, with neighbouring countries, or with regional partners, the tool selected should be autonomous, neutral, secure, interoperable and inexpensive, offering those authorized to exchange information, the ability to do so in a swift and effective manner, and in the language of choice.

It is on these lines that the European Commission’s Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development tasked CRIMARIO to develop IORIS, an information-exchange platform in six languages, designed to promote the operationalization of information-sharing in the Indian Ocean region including the Djibouti Code of Conduct and the regional centres in Madagascar and the Seychelles. In fact, the system developed now links the specified regional centres with States through encrypted means, and though originally configured to offer standardized communications, recent enhancements to IORIS enables users to also coordinate maritime operations through, for example, the calculation of intercept points.

IORIS is proving to be a success because it is offering autonomy to each user by enabling national authorities to create communities of choice, for routine or ad hoc operations. So, for example, the Ministry of Transportation of a country could create a ‘closed’ group and include the State’s navy, coast guard, marine police, coast guard and fisheries protection arm, to ensure for the coordination of effort in maritime zones of relevance to the State. Moreover, IORIS could offer the same users the ability to operate under the direction/coordination of a regional centre using the same system, to control vast ocean spaces, thereby avoiding the need to train officials in a multitude of systems. This is exemplified by the Seychelles, which hosts the Regional Centre for Operational Coordination that coordinates operations in the Indian Ocean Commission’s sphere of influence, and uses IORIS for its national needs as well.

Another unique selling point is that IORIS is neutral and independent in that it does not pull information from users, but rather depends on users utilising their own data sources to operate, which could include vessels’ positions from Automatic Identification Systems (AIS), Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS), radar and even other international sources such as the US SeaVision. In this context, CRIMARIO is currently studying ways to offer partners access to information from EU sensors as well.

Another advantageous consideration is that IORIS does not require purchase or installation as it is a secure web-based platform, even light enough to allow patrol vessels and aircraft to exchange information with operational centres.

It is for all these reasons that IORIS is fast becoming the information-exchange tool of choice for the Western Indian Ocean and perhaps beyond, given its very low running costs, interoperability, encryption, and standardized approach to information exchange. And should IORIS become the single information-sharing tool for the region, the challenges faced in terms of communications and coordination amongst the many centres, States and partners, could well become a thing of the past, as securing a safer and more secure maritime domain through use of a common platform is in everyone’s interest.

The CRIMARIO Team continues to stand ready to support partners willing to subscribe to the system through the provision of training and mentoring, within the programme’s means and capabilities.

More on IORIS: Use of IORIS during Cutlass exercise and Release of IORIS version 2.0

Photo: ©️ RMIFC. RMIFC staff using IORIS platform during an exercise on the trafficking of natural species by sea, Antananarivo, Sept 2020