On the high seas, seafarers are largely on their own. Pirates and terrorists operate with impunity across the oceans and it is the worst nightmare of a seafarer. Piracy occurs in international waters; usually outside security patrolled or monitored areas. The recent incidents of sea-jacking reveal that, pirates are using most modern weapons, navaids, fast boats and have adopted terrorist tactics to board merchant vessels. While security at land based locations was tightened, consequent to terrorist attacks, concrete steps were not taken to address the vagaries at sea. The International Ship and Port Security Code (ISPS Code) has introduced some crucial steps to address the maritime security problem. Implementing a system of positive vessel identification and control then emerged as the best hope to reduce the menace.
The IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) adopted new regulations on Long-Range Identification and Tracking of ships (LRIT), during its 81st session from 10 to 19 May 2006. This will be included in Chapter V of SOLAS on Safety of Navigation, through which LRIT will be introduced as a mandatory requirement for passenger ships and cargo ships (including high-speed craft) of 300 GT and upwards and mobile offshore drilling units on international voyages.
The LRIT system consists of the shipborne LRIT information transmitting equipment, the Communication Service Providers, the Application Service Providers, the LRIT Data Centres, including any related Vessel Monitoring Systems, the LRIT Data Distribution Plan and the International LRIT Data Exchange.
Distinction Between LRIT and AIS
The Automatic Identification System (AIS) is a shipboard broadcast system that acts like a transponder, operating in the VHF maritime band and ensure reliable ship-to-ship operation. Data derived through LRIT will be available only to the recipients who are entitled to receive such information. There will be no interface between LRIT and AIS.
Operation of the System
The SOLAS regulation on LRIT establishes a multilateral agreement for sharing LRIT information for security and search and rescue purposes, amongst SOLAS Contracting Governments, in order to meet the maritime security needs and other concerns of such Governments. The LRIT information ships will be required to transmit the ship’s identity, location and date and time of the position. It maintains the right of flag States to protect information about the ships entitled to fly their flag, where appropriate, while allowing coastal States access to information about ships navigating off their coasts. The SOLAS regulation on LRIT does not create or affirm any new rights of States over ships beyond those existing in international law, particularly, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), nor does it alter or affect the rights, jurisdiction, duties and obligations of States in connection with UNCLOS.
LRIT information is provided to Contracting Governments and Search and rescue services entitled to receive the information, upon request, through a system of National, Regional, Co-operative and International LRIT Data Centres, using where necessary, the LRIT International Data Exchange. Each Administration should provide to the LRIT Data Centre it has selected, a list of the ships entitled to fly its flag, which are required to transmit LRIT information, together with other salient details and should update, without undue delay, such lists as and when changes occur. Ships should only transmit the LRIT information to the LRIT Data Centre selected by their Administration. The obligations of ships to transmit LRIT information and the rights and obligations of Contracting Governments and of Search and rescue services to receive LRIT information are established in regulation V/19-1 of the 1974 SOLAS Convention.
Implementation and Impact
The regulation foresees a phased-in implementation schedule for ships constructed before its expected entry into force date of 1 January 2008. There have been apprehensions from some corners of the maritime industry on the proposed initiative on tracking of ship’s identity. Those who are carrying out genuine shipping business would never hesitate to reveal vessel identities, registries, ownership, voyage histories, cargo and crew details. It would be unwise for the industry to resist compliance of any security plan. In the vast ocean, there are two types of vessels – friends those who could be identified and foes. With the implementation of LRTI, it is hoped that any vessel perceived to be a threat could be tracked and intercepted well in advance.