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Global Vessel Information Service – the different faces of long range identification and tracking


Long, long ago, in a galaxy not so far away, we all knew where we were, all the time, by instinct. And this instinct remains today – for some… Wolves know their way back to the lair, salmon know what river to swim up for spawning, and even the smallest humming bird can migrate thousands of kilometres. Mankind, however, seems to have lost this ability along the way to our modern mechanised world. We use Global Positioning Systems (GPS) on ships, planes and in our cars to tell use where we are, and where we want to go. In addition, there are regulations to ensure we can all get to where we want, safely and as efficiently as possible, while sharing the routes with many other users.

These points were presented by James Taylor, Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) at the recent IALA Seminar on Global Tracking of Vessels, and he went on to note that cars have roads and highways, airplanes have corridors. Ships have existing forms of control with restricted areas, Traffic Separation Schemes (TSS), etc. – could the next step be the establishment of ‘highways’ of the sea? The realities of moder n shipping, with larger and less manoeuvrable ships, localised areas of traffic congestion, varied hazardous cargoes, environmental and security concerns has pressured Competent Authorities to take sophisticated measures to reduce risks. Discussions on Long Range Identification and Tracking, taking place at many international forums, are expanding what was a strictly security approach (Long Range Identification and Tracking – LRIT) to a more global concept of vessel information sharing.

It has been widely agreed that the sharing of information between VTSs, MRCCs, Port Authorities and ships offers benefits for safety, security and traffic management. What is required is clearly defined policy, functional and technical specifications for an LRIT system that goes beyond security, and provides value added services at all levels.

Clive Davidson, Australian Maritime Safety Administration (AMSA) and President of IALA, noted at the same seminar that the world of marine navigation is on the cusp of change as computerised methods are set to augment and then replace traditional labour intensive processes. No longer will mariners rely solely on the taking of compass bearings and radar ranges, and their subsequent plotting on a paper chart, to determine their position when coasting. Already mariners are being exposed to electronic chart systems and ‘private’ chart data and thus are increasingly becoming aware of the potential benefits and possibilities on offer from the use of electronic navigation. All these aspects, and more, are setting the scene for Long Range Tracking of Vessels.

What has happened? What is coming?


While there is good progress at IMO on the requirements and mechanisms for LRIT, much can be done to augment those efforts.


The MSC Working Group on Maritime Security, LRIT, was held at IMO from 17 – 19 October, 2005. While significant progress was made, agreement is still required on key points. The terms of reference of the group were to develop draft SOLAS amendments on the Long-range identification and tracking (LRIT) of ships, taking into account the summing up by the Chairman of the MSWG at MSC 80. In addition, the group was asked to note that the obligation to transmit LRIT information should be extended to include cargo ships between 300 and 500 gross tonnes, engaged on international voyages. Although discussions resolved some issues, as the group consisted of only 36 out of the 155 SOLAS Contracting Governments, and keeping in mind the nature of the issues involved, it was decided that consensus on the draft text of SOLAS amendments on the issue was not possible during the October meeting.

Some key points of the draft regulation include:

Application: It is being proposed that this regulation would apply
to the following types of ships engaged on international voyages:

• Passenger ships, including high-speed passenger craft

• Cargo ships, including high-speed craft, of 300 gross tonnage and upwards

• Mobile offshore drilling units

Implementation: Suggested date of [1 January 2008] is being discussed.

Information: ‘What’ – It is being proposed that ships shall automatically transmit the following long-range identification and tracking information:

1. The identity of the ship

2. The position of the ship (latitude and longitude)

3. The date and time of the position provided

Information: ‘Who’ – Discussions are focused on Contracting Governments, and it is being suggested that they shall:

• Be entitled to receive information about ships flying their flag irrespective of where such ships may be located

• Be entitled to receive information about ships which have indicated their intention to enter a port facility, or a place under the jurisdiction of that Contracting Government

Responsibilities: Some of the responsibilities being discussed for the Contracting Government include:

• Recognise and respect the commercial confidentiality and sensitivity of any long range identification and tracking information they may receive

• Protect the information they may receive from unauthorized access or disclosure

• Use the information they may receive in a manner consistent with international law

• Bear all costs associated with any long-range identification and tracking information they may seek to receive

J. Carson-Jackson, Technical Coordination Manager, IALA