VTS & Maritime Surveillance Issues & Solutions

Objectives and Requirements

The IALA VTS Manual (2016) describes the main objectives of a Vessel Traffic Service as follows:
  1. Aid the Mariner in the safe use of navigable waterways
  2. Afford unhindered access to pursue commercial and leisure activities
  3. Contribute to keeping the seas, and adjacent environment, free from pollution
Based on these objectives we can elaborate each one to derive a detailed set of requirements for a VTS.
Achieving objectives requires setting goals and establishing plans that will achieve the required goals. Therefore for each of the objectives above we must determine what is required in order for that objective to be achieved. IMO Regulation A857 defines the internal functional requirements of a VTS as Data Collection, Data Evaluation and Decision Making which must be applied for each of the objectives above so that a more detailed analysis is developed to breakdown each objective into the essential functional functions and components that are required for a VTS system to fulfil those objectives.

In addition, local regulations also guide the establishment of a Vessel Traffic Service and specific details about its implementation. Within the EU, the 2002 Commission Directive (
2002/59/EC) and its 2011 amendment (2011/15/EU) define specific details about establishing a Community Vessel Traffic Monitoring and Information Service.

Brief Risk Assessment

Determining functional requirements starts with an assessment of Risk and the key risks would be defined as follows:
  • Vessel related risks (for example, geographical, environmental, navigational)
  • Inaccessibility, whether deliberate or accidental or due to environmental factors
  • Criminal Activity
  • Pollution
  • Misinformation
Vessel related risks associated with incoming or departing vessel are generally self explanatory. The navigational risk of collision with another vessel and the geographical risk of grounding are clearly associated with the need to implement Navigation risk reduction measures. Environmental factors, possibly associated with Marine Protected Areas, are clearly high risk areas where the highest level of risk reduction may need to be considered. Inaccessibility may be the result of a number of different scenarios including instances such as a blockage to the normal access fairways, a security alert, pollution within a VTS area, an incident at a facility with close proximity to the VTS area. These risks therefore have an impact on the objective of unhindered access. Criminal Activity such as terrorism, piracy, kidnapping and smuggling have an impact of the normal commercial activity of a nation state and also may affect the operation of ports and other maritime infrastructure and Pollution clearly impacts the objective to keep seas free from pollution. Misinformation is the result of poor communication and can easily occur in many situations, whether it is ship to ship, shore to ship or ship to shore. Misinformation can also occur as the result of any maritime scenario and hence this risk would be associated with all VTS objectives.

In assessing risk, it is always important to understand the costs that would be incurred should any one, or more, of the risks occur. A VTS, VTMIS, VMS, Coastal or Offshore Surveillance System or a Maritime Domain Awareness solution provides a risk reduction, as well as a management, tool for the implementing authority. Its successful implementation does not eliminate the risks but it does provide facilities for managing situations as they occur to ensure that the risks are minimised. The
Cost Benefit Analysis section of this website will further explore and debate this issue.