VTS & Maritime Surveillance Issues & Solutions


Environmental protection is one of the primary objectives of a VTS as set out in the IALA VTS Manual. It is also a very hot political topic in many nations and environmental incidents can attract significant media attention. Should an incident occur, there may be official accident investigations, media assessments, political comment and very quick (possibly unjustified) blame / scapegoat accusations. Under normal circumstances, the probability of an accident that causes a major environmental incident is very low, particularly if a VTS has been properly designed and the conclusions of risk assessments have been adequately implemented in a VTS system solution. However, Oil Spills do occur due to factors that cannot be managed by the VTS and when they do, all media and political attention can very quickly home in on the port where it occurred and the management board of that port will face numerous questions.

Oil Spill / Polution Detection

A key issue for Maritime Authorities is the lack of a joined up approach between shipping and the environment. Ports are interfaces between the land and the sea for the import and export of goods and the transportation of people. However, Ports are normally supervised under a Transportation or an Economic department of Government whereas the environment, and its protection, is always under a different department. Ports have responsibility for Navigational Safety as the competent authority but not the same responsibility for environmental protection. Clearly it is in the interest of a port to ensure that its area of responsibility is well maintained and that pollution of any form is avoided. However, with some areas of the Oil & Gas industry now implementing Oil Spill Detection from its offshore platforms, the question is: should ports do the same?

If pollution is detected early, a response plan can be activated to ensure the pollution is contained and cleaned up before it is beyond containment and causes damage to the environment. Such technology exists and could be implemented as part of the surveillance operations of a VTS. If measures such as deploying oil spill booms can be activated quickly, then the risks of the oil spill spreading to sensitive areas can be minimised.