When is a VTS not a VTS? Part 2



Captain Terry Hughes, FRIN FNI, Gloucestershire, UK


Part 1 of this article was originally published in edition 43 of Port Technology International and is available for download at porttechnology.org journal archives.

Ship Reporting Systems

The Dover Straits has a worldwide reputation for being one of the busiest waterways in the world. The Dover StraitTraffic Separation Scheme (TSS) developed out of a series of experiments begun in 1967 but it was not until 1971, after a series of accidents, that the authorities were galvanised into action, taken through the IMO, resulting in its official formation. The scheme was the first to be set up in the world under radar surveillance. It was also the first to be adopted by the IMO and coincided with the revised COLREGS of 1972, which includes Rule 10. The adoption was not finalised until 1977. Since then many other TSS in various Straits around the world have been adopted by IMO. More and more Ship Reporting Systems that incorporate a TSS are being adopted by the IMO. Most if not all of the areas are operated from a VTS centre. The Straits of Gibraltar, Strait of Bonifacio, Straits of Malacca and Singapore, Gulf of Finland, Torres Strait, Great Barrier Reef (REEFREP) and the Great Belt (Storebælt) are some to name but a few. The latter named is the major of the three Straits of Denmark that connect the Kattegat to the Baltic Sea. The waters are international and the adopted SRS BELTREP is operated from the Great Belt VTS centre. 

In 2004, IMO adopted Resolution MSC.161(78), which gave approval to the REEFREP SRS to provide Navigational Assistance, “in circumstances where information available to REEFCENTRE may assist on-board decision making REEFREP may initiate interaction with an individual ship to provide this information.” This may include circumstances where a ship may be standing into shallow water (for example, in areas of restricted navigation where there is radar/AIS coverage) or deviating from a recommended route. The Australian authorities
are naturally very keen to protect the Great Barrier Reef, which is the largest coral reef system in the world as well as being the largest World Heritage Area.

In 2006, IMO similarly adopted Resolution MSC230(82), which gave approval to the BELTREP SRS to provide individual navigational assistance or local conditions. Like the Australians, the Danish authorities are keen to ensure the safety of navigation, particularly in the vicinity of the Great Belt Bridge, which could be considered to be an offshore installation, albeit joined at both ends to the shore. Unfortunately, a ship has already collided with this Bridge causing a fatality on the ship itself. Australia and Denmark are two examples of states where the protection of their individual environments from possible adverse effects of maritime traffic is of extreme importance. In both cases, their adopted SRS were upgraded by IMO for the provision of navigational assistance to individual vessels.

Navigational Assistance Service

IMO Resolution A.857(20) already approves and currently only recognises Navigational Assistance Service (NAS) as one of three types of service that a VTS can provide to vessel traffic. IMO have used carefully chosen words by stressing that, “when the VTS is authorized to issue instructions to vessels, these instructions should be result-oriented only, leaving the details of execution, such as course to be steered or engine manoeuvres to be executed, to the master or pilot on board the vessel.” In other words, one should not instruct a ship what specific course to steer or what specific speed to proceed at. NAS itself can be provided through an Information Service (INS) using the correct terminology, being guided by Resolution A.918(22) Standard Marine Communication Phrases (SMCP). Information provided by a VTS should at all times be based on fact whereas advice is based on a professional opinion.

There is much confusion over the term ‘Navigational Assistance Service’, with different interpretations on what it actually means including, dare I say, Shore Based Pilotage (SBP). This latter term is a misnomer, as an act of pilotage can really only be carried out by a Pilot on board a ship itself. IMPA and EMPA both agree that there is no substitute for a Pilot on the bridge of a ship. In some VTS centres, Pilots do provide navigational assistance and their valuable local knowledge certainly enhances this type of service. How NAS is provided, who provides it and when is up to the VTS Authority, the ship's Master or both. It is a service to assist onboard navigational decision-making and to monitor its effects. The key words here are assist and monitor.

Authorities are starting to look carefully as to how they can best provide advice to vessels that appear to be navigating in such a manner as to cause concern. The SMCP provides a terminological hierarchy where important message markers can be used as the sequence of events unfolds. The main message markers are Information, Warning, Advice and Instruction. There is some confusion as to the meaning of the words Advice and Instruction. Advice is based on a recommendation whilst Instruction is based on a regulation, which could be local or national. As the word Advice is based on a recommendation, in my opinion it would be more assertive to use the word Recommend instead of Advice, or both. Resolution A857(20) 2.3.4 is confusing by stating that, “When the VTS is authorized to issue instructions to vessels, these instructions should be result-oriented only…”. The word “instructions” in this context is misplaced and in my opinion should be replaced by advice.

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