US Changes AIS Carriage Requirements

Under the newly passed Maritime Transport Securities Act (MTSA) the USA is fast-tracking a host of security measures for shipping, including a change to the SOLAS Automatic Identification System (AIS) carriage requirements for ships entering US waters. SOLAS requires tankers to fit AIS before the next Safety Equipment Survey after 1 July 2003, the MTSA will require carriage of an AIS by 1 July 2003.

This has in essence brought forward the requirement for installation of AIS on tankers by up to a maximum of 15 months. For example, if we look at the worst case scenario, if a tanker underwent an annual Safety Equipment Certificate (SEC) survey on, say, 30 June 2003, then her next SEC would be 12 months later on the 30 June 2004. However, the regulations allow a “window” for the annual survey, extending from three months before to three months after the anniversary date. Therefore, this same vessel which had a SEC annual survey on 30 June 2003 would not need her next SEC survey until 30 September 2004, effectively 15 months later. This is under the IMO requirements, BUT to fulfil the US requirements the tanker has to be fitted with AIS by 1 July 2003. This then has the effect of accelerating AIS requirements for tankers by up to 15 months – worst case scenario. We understand that there may well be difficulties in meeting the demand not for equipment but for the technicians needed to carry out an accelerated fitting of AIS.

INTERTANKO has raised the concerns regarding this unilateral action to the USCG and has also stressed the importance of ensuring that coastal States make the required preparations in addition to the vessels. Once the carriage requirement is in force, AIS will be rapidly carried around the world by ships engaged in international trade. It is important that ships’ masters know that, in the event of a terrorist threat, their routine transmissions WILL be monitored. INTERTANKO has urged that full emphasis be placed on the real need for coastal States to have shore-based AIS facilities in place to mirror the AIS sea-borne implementation dates. Without the supporting shore AIS facilities the use of AIS as a security measure will be very ineffective and will only function as ship-to-ship AIS communication.

INTERTANKO has also noted that States must also consider how AIS data will serve their own maritime security needs and how the data will be received and managed. It is vital to focus on the security of received AIS transmissions and their efficient use. Little has been said about the implications arising from the possible misuse of such data, compromising both commercial activities and confidentiality as well as maritime security. There appears to be little to prevent terrorists or pirates from identifying a particular ship or type of ship, and using the dynamic data to carry out an interception from relatively close range. These are compelling reasons for retaining the master’s discretion to switch off AIS when, in his judgement, the security of his ship is threatened – not least in those areas where coastal States do not yet monitor the transmissions.

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Contact: Howard Snaith, e-mail: