When is a VTS not a VTS? Part 1



Captain Terry Hughes, FRIN FNI, Gloucestershire, UK


Development of Vessel Traffic Services
In the summer of 1946 the British Admiralty, in conjunction with the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, carried out experiments with naval radar equipment set up ashore at Liverpool. The demonstration confirmed the potential usefulness of shore-based radar. Similar experiments were carried out at Southampton, Halifax (Nova Scotia), Le Havre (France) and Long Beach (USA). It is little known that the world's first harbour control radar was actually installed at the end of Victoria Pier, Douglas, Isle of Man. Air Vice-Marshall Sir Geoffrey Rhodes Bromet, KBE CB DSO who was Lieutenant Governor of the Island at the time, inaugurated it on 27 February 1948. The system was manufactured and installed by Cossor Radar Ltd.

In the same year, the Sperry Gyroscope Company together with Cossor installed the world's first specially designed port radar system at the Port of Liverpool. The First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir John HD Cunningham GCB MVO, inaugurated it on 27 July. Sir Thomas AL Brocklebank, Bart., Chairman of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, had taken considerable interest in the radar project from its original conception. As a ship owner he was particularly interested in the safety and quick turnaround of his ships. The delay of one hour could easily have extended to the loss of a tide, which in those days would have cost an average vessel the huge sum of £400. Such a system put Liverpool into the record books as being the pioneer of European Vessel Traffic Services (VTS).

Other countries quickly followed using a single radar system and a radio for communicating to vessels. At this time commercial radar, which made it possible under almost all weather conditions to observe vessel traffic from the shore, was comparatively new. In combination with radio, a traffic surveillance system was achieved and real time information exchange between the shore and ships became possible.

Current legislation
It was not until 1968, however, that the Inter-Governmental Maritime Organization (IMCO) adopted Resolution, A.158(ES. IV), ‘Recommendation On Port Advisory Services’, subsequently followed by Resolution A.587(14) in 1985, ‘Guidelines for Vessel Traffic Services’ and Resolution A.857(20), ‘Guidelines for Vessel Traffic Services’, adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on 27 November 1997.

So here we are 40 plus years later with Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) now having international approval under SOLAS Chapter V Regulation 12. However, it is the last 10 years or so that has made the difference. In 1998 the International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities (IALA) published their long awaited ‘Recommendation (V103) on Standards for Training and Certification of VTS Personnel’. This was quickly followed by a series of model courses covering the training qualifications for VTS Operator, VTS Supervisor, OJT (On the Job Training) Instructor and OJT itself. They have also published guidelines and recommendations on accreditation, simulation, implementation and procedures. To have the recommendations on VTS training together with the various model courses and guidelines published and internationally accepted in such a short time is a credit to the IALA VTS Committee and surely miraculous for the shipping industry, where the approval of legislation seems to drag on for ages.

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