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VTS & Maritime Surveillance Issues & Solutions

VTS Functions

The VTS Manual lists the most important functions of a VTS as those related to:
  • Safety of Life at Sea
  • Safety of Navigation
  • Efficiency of Vessel Traffic Movement
  • Protection of the Marine Environment
  • Supporting Maritime Security
  • Supporting Law Enforcement
  • Protection of adjacent communities & infrastructure
This section will provide a high level overview of the system functions that support the above. Firstly, we should assign these functions to the VTS objectives:

Safety of Navigation


Ensuring safety of navigation requires a VTS to have a clear view of all vessel traffic movement in the area and to be able to identify vessels so that any messages (including warnings) can be quickly and effectively communicated to the appropriate vessel. Of the VTS functions listed above, safety of navigation is also key to ensuring safety of life at sea and both safety of life and safety of navigation require appropriate security and a law enforcement presence. Therefore the Safety of Navigation objective relates to the following VTS functions:
  • Safety of Life at Sea
  • Safety of Navigation
  • Efficiency of Vessel Traffic Movement
  • Supporting Maritime Security
  • Supporting Law Enforcement
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Background


Following Titanic, the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention was created and has been regularly updated. Under Chapter V (Safety of Navigation), it sets out many guidelines that relate to information management and ensuring that the Master of a Vessel has the necessary information to complete his voyage in safety. SOLAS places responsibility on Contracting Governments relating to the provision of services to the Mariner, including Navigational warnings, Meteorological, Ice Warning, SAR, Ship Routing and Reporting and Vessel Traffic Services (within territorial sea).

A Vessel Traffic Service needs to be able to ensure that the necessary information is provided to all vessels within the VTS Area. To achieve this task it clearly needs to maintain situational awareness by detecting, tracking and monitoring all maritime traffic to ensure that it can quickly establish communication with any vessel whenever necessary. Clearly automated services are available for the provision of some services but the VTS Centre will be able to provide more detailed information that is relevant to its local area.

Unhindered Access


Unhindered access requires fairways and approaches to be clear, suitable environmental conditions and the ability to quickly identify anything that may be a risk to the continuance of unhindered access. This require a VTS to be able to monitor Vessel Traffic movements and identify risks to safety of navigation. Collisions or groundings would result in a hinderance to access and therefore the VTS must be able to predict and warn of collisions and be able to confirm sufficient under keel clearance for an incoming vessel to safely navigate to its berth. Effective maritime security and law enforcement to guard against other external risks is also an essential part of maintaining unhindered access.
  • Safety of Navigation
  • Efficiency of Vessel Traffic Movement
  • Supporting Maritime Security
  • Supporting Law Enforcement
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Background


On 7 August 2010, the MSC Chitra and the MV Khalijia collided head on near the entrance to Mumbai Port. The MSC Chitra listed, containers fell from her decks and an oil spill from her tanks spread over a distance of more than 2 nautical miles causing pollution to Mumbai’s beaches and closing both Mumbai and Jawaharlal Nehru Ports for several days

Clearly, this is precisely the type of incident that a VTS should ensure does not happen. The incident prevented access to the port and thereby delayed many vessels in the offloading and loading of their cargo in Mumbai. In addition to the direct costs associated with the above incident, the closure of the ports added to the costs of other ship owners and may have resulted in a lack of work for port employees during the closure. The report into the incident criticised the level of VTS operator training and the communications between VTS and the Vessels / Pilots. It recommended upgrades to VTS equipment, greater use of channel marking navaids and improved VTS operator training. Improved contingency planning and pollution control was recommended for all ports in India.

To ensure unhindered access requires good situational awareness by the VTS and by the Officer of the Watch on board. Effective communication is also essential if Information and Advice are to be effectively relayed between the VTS and Vessel Traffic. In busy ports, traffic organisational skills are obviously essential and the assistance of Decision Support Tools could aid the VTS Operator in ensuring the optimum solutions are implemented.

Whether a VTS operates as an Information Service or as a Traffic Organisational Service, under normal conditions vessels will have unhindered access. Access is most likely to be prevented by an incident that occurs within the VTS area and the provision of systems with good situational awareness and effective communications should provide VTS Operators with the necessary tools to perform their task successfully. Decision Support Tools that enable high risk situations to be identified at an early opportunity are also useful in ensuring the unhindered access objective is achieved.

Clean Seas & Waterways


Maintaining clean seas is essential in maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem. Pollution can occur from Maritime transport (both deliberately and accidentally) and therefore the VTS needs to be able to monitor the environment and provide alerts to any pollution that may occur. As a VTS is coastal infrastructure, any pollution within the VTS area also presents the risk that it could be washed ashore and cause further environmental damage. Therefore monitoring all vessel movement is a key part of maintaining clean seas. Establishing risk zones around vessels carrying potential pollutants and increasing that risk zone if a tanker has only a single skin are an essential part of the VTS functions to support clean seas. Therefore the VTS functions directly affecting the Clean Seas objective are:
  • Safety of Navigation
  • Efficiency of Vessel Traffic Movement
  • Protection of the Marine Environment
  • Supporting Law Enforcement
  • Protection of adjacent communities & infrastructure

Can a VTS ensure Clean Seas?


There are various sensors available that can detect oil or other pollutants in the water and recent technology has also provided a means of using radar to detect pollutants. As this is now proven and available technology, any spill within coastal waters, or a VTS area, could be detected early to avoid the spill spreading out of control. A VTS can therefore now be configured to fully meet all of the IALA VTS objectives. It could even be a valid charge that a port without Oil Spill Detection technology could be considered negligent if a spill within its waters is not detected early and contained.

Background


In many ways, this is the part of the IALA objectives that is given the lowest level of importance when a VTS solution is being developed. However, it can be the most expensive to resolve if an incident should occur. In general, the risk of a pollution incident is low, but should that mean that this objective can be ignored? Running the risk that an oil spill will not occur may save some expenditure at the time of VTS acquisition, but if a spill does occur, then the cost will be many multiples of the initial “saving.” As a port provides the interface between the sea and the land, a pollution incident within the VTS area could therefore cause damage to the land itself as well as to some land based wildlife and various habitats. Environmental protection is a hot political topic and incidents of pollution frequently require careful public relations management to limit the impact upon the port and its business.

Pollution can be caused by a collision or by accidental or deliberate dumping. Pollution from vessels is often not discovered until it is found on the coastline many hours after the vessel has departed the area. This provides a problem for Law Enforcement and so it is clear that if pollution incidents are to be handled effectively the important criteria are early detection and the ability to contain the pollutant before it spreads uncontrollably. In addition, if early detection can be implemented then it may be possible to identify and arrest the polluter before he leaves the area.

Safety of Navigation and efficiency of Vessel traffic Movement are essential to minimise the risk of collisions that could pollute the marine environment. However, Protection of the Marine Environment and adjacent communities and Infrastructure requires effective early warnings when any pollutant is released and effective law enforcement to deal with the incident.