VTS & Maritime Surveillance Issues & Solutions

Coastal Surveillance

Coastal Surveillance is deployed for law enforcement or national security reasons. The key difference between Coastal Surveillance and a typical Port or Straits’ Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) is that the primary focus of a Coastal Surveillance System is likely to be the unexpected smaller and/or faster moving vessels and that an Interdiction capability may be an integrated part of the package. Therefore in planning the implementation of an effective Coastal Surveillance solution, it is important to identify the threats that are to be countered and consider the positioning of interdiction assets in order that a swift response can be implemented as soon as a threat is detected.
Stacks Image 36


Maritime Coastal Surveillance is deployed for many purposes, from national defence to asset / environmental protection and anti-smuggling activities. Except in cases of coastal traffic separation schemes such as the Channel Navigation Information System (CNIS) in UK, the Bosphorus in Turkey or other international straits, coastal surveillance systems are typically looking for the unusual events rather than managing planned, and unplanned, arrivals and departures. This means that understanding the type of target that must be detected is vital to ensuring the deployment of the correct technology to do the job. In addition, understanding the speed and manoeuvrability of the target will affect where and how interdiction assets should be deployed and what will be needed to guide them to their target.

Coastal Surveillance for environmental protection is a very constructive use of technology and can be equally justified on the basis of cost benefit analysis in the same way as VTS systems are evaluated by Port Authorities. Any pollution incident can result in clean up costs which frequently exceed any contingency budgets that may have been established and if the marine ecosystem is damaged beyond its ability to recover, then there will be costs associated with the lows of businesses and lifestyles that previously depended on that marine ecosystem. Coastal Surveillance also provides early warning of possible smuggling operations and can enable enforcement agencies to react in time to catch the smugglers either before or when landing the contraband substances.
Stacks Image 10
Stacks Image 32

Coastal AIS

Today, many states have implemented a Coastal AIS network. This provides an ability to collect data about shipping within the AIS coverage area but in many cases these coastal AIS systems are not continuously monitored and therefore provide no additional security protection or improvement in Safety of Navigation. The case of the Costa Concordia is a typical example. AIS based tracking reports were produced to show what had happened and to demonstrate that the vessel was closer than normal to the island of Giglio. However, clearly no-one was watching this system at the time when the vessel was approaching or it would seem logical to assume that a warning could have been provided to the Master of the vessel. Such a warning may have prevented the accident that cost 32 lives.
Stacks Image 17

Target Detection & Identification

The task of detecting the unknown target is normally achieved by exception. With commercial vessels caring AIS and LRIT, the legitimate targets are easily detected and identified. Fishing vessels that are not using AIS will be operating around the normal fishing grounds which are well known and so fishing activity can be easily monitored where it is in the range of coastal sensors and identification can be achieved by integrating with a national VMS system. So the detection and identification of unknown targets is the starting point for the work of Coastal Surveillance operators and differs to VTS Operators in that VTS is principally interested in the safe navigation of known targets whereas Coastal Surveillance is focussed on the unknown target and abnormal behaviour. The detection and subsequent identification of unknown targets may require higher specification sensors than traditional VTS systems as the requirement to detect smaller and faster manoeuvring craft at greater ranges is likely to be part of the requirement. Many of these sensors are discussed in the System Solutions section of this website. Speed of response is a key factor in determining the requirement for sensor systems and where fast moving targets must be detected early, sensors with an appropriate detection capability are essential if, following detection, an interdiction plan is to be prepared and implemented in a timely manner.

Defining Requirements

Coastal Surveillance systems can take many forms and can be deployed for many different purposes. However the most important criteria in the selection of a Coastal Surveillance system is to ensure that it is capable of providing a suitable service to ensure safety of navigation as well as achieving the security or environmental protection objectives. Once deployed, the facilities provided by the system may enable the authority to provide better services in many areas instead of just achieving its original objective. Where such capability is deployed, it makes logical sense to ensure that it is used to maximum effect, particularly where it could save lives. For assistance in defining the technical requirements of a Coastal Surveillance System, please use the contact page.