VTS & Maritime Surveillance Issues & Solutions

Maritime Security

In December 2001, the ISPS Code was ratified as a response to 9/11. On 26/11 in 2008, terrorists came ashore in Mumbai and murdered many people in the Taj Mahal hotel. The terrorists in Mumbai used a small boat to land in Mumbai and evaded the port radar system. The port in Mumbai had radar systems that was probably focussed on managing and ensuring Navigational safety for much larger vessels and therefore a small vessel slipped in unnoticed.

What is the role of VTS in respect to Maritime Security? It is clearly recognised as a function of a VTS and in this case it is clear that VTS means “system” and not “service.“ The ISPS Code sets out clear guidance for assessing the security of a Ship and a Port Facility and for Ports it sets out minimum functional security requirements that include Security equipment, Monitoring and Controlling access and suitable Communication facilities. In establishing a VTS it is clear that the sensors and systems used would also meet the needs of the ISPS code for Security from the Marine-side approaches.


Piracy has become the most important maritime security issue over recent years. The International Maritime Bureau in Kuala Lumpur maintains a Map of Piracy and Armed Robbery incidents. Somalia and the Malacca Straits are the coastal areas most commonly associated with Piracy but many ports have also experienced unauthorised boardings of vessels at anchor. Offshore Oil & Gas platforms have also experienced unauthorised boarding by Insurgents / Terrorists, so this is an issue of concern to port, coastal and offshore authorities. The decimation of fishing grounds in the Gulf of Aden by international fishing fleets is often stated as a principle cause of piracy in that area due to the loss of livelihood for the local population and the lack of an effective government to offer alternative employment.

To protect shipping from piracy has proven to be a challenge that is not yet resolved. Increased patrols, increased onboard security and citadels have not yet resolved the issue. The integrated bridge systems of many ships provide excellent facilities for navigation purposes, but these systems are not set up for providing alerts relating to fast moving vessels approaching from behind. The on-board ARPA radar monitors the sea area ahead of the vessel and provides alerts relating to other vessels in close proximity. 360 degree surveillance of the vessel with automatic detection and alerting of incoming vessels may be able to provide a ships crew with an early warning such that measures to dissuade the pirates from boarding can be implemented before boarding commences. This is a topic that needs further debate.

Physical Security

The ISPS Code requires all ports to be classified according to the level of security they have implemented.