Procurement of a new VTS: Some essential factors



Captain Björn Lager, Swedish Maritime Administration, Gothenburg, Sweden


Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) – a service designed to improve vessel traffic safety and efficiency and to protect the environment – offers the potential to respond appropriately to traffic situations emerging in an area.

Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in the focus on vessel traffic safety in EU member states and various regions worldwide. The primary purpose of the original port VTS was to prevent vessel collisions and groundings in the port and entrance areas. The attitude towards the scope of a VTS has been widened to give it a key role in environmental protection in the event of maritime accidents. VTS coverage is expanding to include  coastal areas, shipping channels and sensitive offshore areas. Implementation of the Automatic Identification System (AIS) and the EU vessel information system ‘SafeSeaNet’ will supply the VTS with detailed data on vessels, such as their identification, movements and any dangerous cargoes. A notable trend among some VTS authorities is the desire to include port security and offshore surveillance in VTS duties.

Factors to consider

The development of a new VTS must build on past experience, prevailing rules and recommendations, available technology and insight into ongoing studies and projects to prepare the VTS infrastructure to meet tomorrow’s demands.

The total concept represents the major challenge in projecting a new VTS. The complexity involved in coordinating the various activities is frequently underestimated.

• What are the customer’s demands and expectations (which often vary within an organisation)?

• How can they be met in terms of the legal framework and international recommendations?

• Should the VTS centre handle vessel traffic only or should related activities be incorporated, with the centre becoming a Vessel Traffic Management and Information Services (VTMIS)? Or should the centre be a combined VTS and Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC)?

Prior to any final decision to project a new VTS, analyses and assessments must be completed to identify whether traffic volume or risks justify these services.

Depending on available expertise, the VTS project team would be wise to use – fully or selectively – the IALA recommendations as guidelines.

Creating nautical specifications

The next step is to create a nautical specification in consultation with the agency in charge and operators in the area, such as ports, pilots and ship operators. Delineate the geographical target area and define the areas in which intensive traffic monitoring is required. Consider whether a ship routing system or ship reporting points have to be established. Decide what kind of monitoring equipment will best meet the demands. The location and size of the VTS centre has to be agreed upon. How many VTS operators are needed to perform daily operations? The nautical specification must also present basic cost estimates. Subsequently, a number of activities will gradually commence and sometimes progress simultaneously in accordance with a set time schedule.

Design and construct the VTS centre to offer effective and healthy working conditions. A sensible measure is to build an extra working station for training and replay purposes. Separate equipment facilities are essential in ensuring a low noise level in the VTS centre, with minimum interruptions during service and repair periods. Emergency power sources, such as UPS and a diesel generator, are essential.


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