Delivering the optimum vehicle traffic service system



Bob Hockham, business development manager, BMT Isis


The operational complexities and changing landscape of today’s ports and terminals continue to present ongoing challenges for port authorities and operators around the world. In particular changing legislation, diversification, security concerns, higher traffic density, larger vessel sizes, as well as movements of hazardous cargoes, reflect on a port’s required level of traffic management, vessel scheduling and navigational planning. This can, in some instances become a very complex task. In a bid to help manage these challenges and improve navigational safety and efficiency, many ports and harbours have turned to vessel traffic services (VTS). However, there are multiple considerations surrounding the implementation of VTS which require detailed investigation.

In this article, Bob Hockham, a master mariner and former port operations manager, now business development manager at BMT Isis, a subsidiary of BMT Group, reinforces the need to undertake a detailed and independent risk assessment, highlighting the factors port and terminal decision makers should consider before procuring VTS equipment. He believes that vital elements of the process are both the vessel traffic pattern analysis and modelling together with consultation and workshops with the end-users, including pilots; recognising that experienced staff are the key to safe and efficient operations.

Initial considerations

It’s important to firstly clarify the purpose of VTS, which is to improve the safety and efficiency of navigation within a port and harbour area, similar to the way in which air traffic control works. Port and terminal operators also need to consider safety of life at sea and protection of the marine environment. Before implementing VTS, port and terminal decision makers must ask the question as to which service category its VTS will fall into ie. an information service, a navigational assistance service or a traffic organisation service.

VTS can be used as an information service which provides timely navigational information including the position, identity and intentions of traffic; weather information and waterway conditions (ie. congestion and marine works in progress such as dredging) to assist navigators within the decision making process. Utilising VTS as a navigational assistance service involves monitoring vessel operator navigational decision making and the resulting effects on the navigational situation. This can be provided as either a contributory or a participatory service. Delivering a traffic organisation service, VTS is implemented to prevent dangerous maritime traffic situations from occurring within the VTS monitored area. This provision is likely to be much more comprehensive and will require a larger investment in equipment, manning and support. Each of these services has their own benefits and risks which must be individually assessed.

When deciding on the level of VTS you require and in turn, the investment needed to deliver that particular service, there is a need to consider proportionality as a particular large scale investment may not be desirable or effective for the smaller inland river ports.

Assessing risks

In order to better inform decision makers, a detailed, independent risk assessment should be carried out as this will provide the necessary information which is influential in determining the level of VTS investment required, including traffic types and patterns, the proximity of worksites, offshore installations and environmentally sensitive areas. To ascertain the level of VTS required, port and terminal operators should consider the requirement for areas such as forward planning of vessel movements, anticipated congestion and likelihood of dangerous incidents, as well as the likely movement of vessels restricted in their ability to manoeuvre, such as heavy transport vessels. Furthermore, traffic monitoring services will require specialised radar and other monitoring equipment, to minimise interference and blind sectors due to close proximity of buildings, structures and other vessels.


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