VTS-Bot: Analysis and Implementation of a Student-centred Learning Approach by using a ChatBot Computer Programme

Project leaderPeter John
Dedicated staffSylvia Farag
Duration13 months (May 2015 to May 2016)
Funding60,000 $
Funded byInternational Association of Maritime Universities (IAMU) and
The Nippon Foundation of Japan
Project partnersAlison Noble
Antwerp Maritime Academy

Peter Björkroth
Novia University of Applied Sciences

Dr. Ben Brooks
Australian Maritime College

Prof. Dr. Naoyuki Takagi
Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology

Project Objectives

Seafaring is truly an international occupation, with hundreds of nationalities represented in the international shipping fleets. In order to communicate effectively with each other, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) chose English as the ‘lingua-franca’ (a word that means trade or ‘bridge’ language) of the sea.

For many seafarers this leads to the need to learn a second language (English) as well as very specific nautical terms (Standard Marine Communication Phrases or SMCP). Many seafarers struggle with this part of their education, and this can lead to communication problems which in turn have contributed to major maritime accidents. Seafarers need more opportunities to practice their language skills and this research project solves this problem.

The research team have developed a ‘chat-bot’ – a computer dialogue system to improve language education in the maritime industry. The chat-bot is programmed with several communication situations relevant for the safety of sea-going ships. Internet-based, computer-controlled dialogues will be available independently from teaching modules. These will enable students to train standard dialogues including the SMCP.

Innovation and Originality

This is the first time a ‘chat-bot’ or Computer dialogue system has been applied in the maritime industry for language development. These systems are believed to be especially useful to apply and retain competencies which have already been acquired – so the research team will look to test this hypothesis on our student cohorts.

Students will be able to implement different communication patterns and to try out communication strategies in a learning environment that constructs realistic or authentic experiences. This follows an educational approach originally made famous by Jean Piaget called ‘constructivist learning’.

The dialogue system will automatically adapt its utterances' difficulty to the students' language skills in order to provide for a better individual learning progression.

An empirical analysis of the dialogues will provide us with an enhanced understanding of the verbal communication employed in situations crucial for the safety of ships at sea and therefore make a contribution to both the industry and the marine environment.

In the future, the chat-bot will also be able to examine other research ideas that are associated with verbal communication. These include how seafarers manage risks, or even why some people are more quickly frustrated by ambiguous or distracting verbal exchanges than others.


John, P. (2016): FY2014 IAMU Capacity building project - VTS-Bot: analysis and implementation of a student-centred learning approach by using a ChatBot computer programme to provide for outcome-based maritime communication training. International Maritime Lecturers Association: Tokyo.

A project workshop was organised at the International Maritime English Conference (IMEC) in October 2015. A summary of the workshop can be found in the Proceedings. John, P., Noble, A., Takagi, N., Björkroth, P. (2015): Using computer dialogue systems for providing a student-centred teaching approach in SMCP-based maritime communication (workshop), Proceedings IMEC 27 : 12th - 15th October, 2015, Netherlands Maritime Institute of Technology, Johor Malaysia // The International Maritime English Conference, IMEC / International Maritime Lecturers Association (IMLA). - Johor Bahru : NMIT

Takagi, N., John, P., Noble, A., Björkroth, P., Brooks, B. (2016): VTS-Bot: Using ChatBots
in SMCP-based Maritime Communication
, Proceedings of JIN Conference 19th - 20th May, 2016, Japanese Institute of Navigation, Kobe (Japan)

Further Information

Final partner meeting of project partners in Tokyo  [choose language by clicking on "EN" at the top right]