Vessel operators who disable their automatic identification system (AIS) are breaking the law and putting maritime lives at risk
This was the message from the US Coast Guard (USCG) after seeing an alarming increase of commercial fishing and crabbing vessels disabling their AIS, causing accidents and complicating search and rescue operations.
USCG issued its warning to mariners and commercial fishermen about the dangers and legal consequences of disabling a vessel’s AIS on 20 January 2021.
AIS is being switched off on more commercial fishing and crabbing vessels because operators want to keep their fishing spots secret from the competition, making these vessels maritime navigation hazards to other vessels and commercial shipping.
AIS provides vital information about the location and voyage intention of vessels to surrounding shipping and vessel traffic monitors, as well as other uses.
“AIS is a vital tool in a host of USCG missions including search and rescue and port security,” said USCG Columbia River sector’s boarding team supervisor Lieutenant Collin Gruin. “It is not only illegal to turn it off but also incredibly dangerous,” he said.
AIS is not just a national requirement. It is adopted by IMO as a maritime navigation safety communications system to prevent accidents and ship collisions, while facilitating safe transit of navigable waterways.
AIS automatically transmits vessel information to shore stations, other ships and aircraft. This data includes vessel identity, type, position, course, speed, navigational status and safety-related information. It is displayed on AIS bridge equipment and on electronic navigation systems, ECDIS and can be cross-referenced with radar for safe navigation in call conditions and time.
In the US, regulation (33 CFR 164.46) in part states that all self-propelled vessels of 20 m or more engaged in commercial service and operating within 12 nautical miles from shore must maintain AIS in effective operating condition. This includes the continual operation of AIS and its associated devices, such as positioning system, gyro, converters and displays, at all times while the vessel is underway or at anchor. It also needs to be maintained if vessels are moored, at least 15 minutes prior to getting underway.
Effective operation condition includes the accurate input and upkeep of all AIS data fields. USCG provides an AIS encoding guide to facilitate compliance with requirement. In the US, violators of this regulation can receive civil penalties of up to US$35,486 per violation.
“Fishing may think they are protecting their businesses, but they are actually making search and rescue efforts more difficult if an emergency happens at sea,” said Mr Gruin.
AIS deactivation is an international issue with hundreds of vessels thought to be switching theirs off from time to time, many to protect illegal activities or evading international sanctions.
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