BIMCO’s Watchkeeper columnist has added his ha’porth to the ongoing debate on the elevation of VTS from ‘information’ to ‘instruction’.
“After the confrontation between the containership COSCO Busan and the protective belt around the Bay Bridge in San Francisco last month, it was abundantly clear that there would be serious repercussions. California is the worst place on earth for any oil spill, and an “avoidable” loss of a substantial quantity of bunkers into the fast moving tides of this famous bay has caused a huge furore in a US state which likes to feel that it is at the cutting edge of maritime safety and pollution prevention.” writes Watchkeeper.
He goes on to warn: “As for the marine industry, it has been in this situation before as any accident in port waters tends to see demands for the same emerging as the dust settles, or oil clears.
Most such demands have a limited shelf life, as port authorities become seized with the dire possibilities that with any increased responsibilities which their VTS operators might take as a consequence of such empowering, the liabilities which will accompany these will also hugely increase.. You cannot “tell” the lawful master of a ship to direct his course or speed in any way without assuming such liabilities that the master (and indeed the owner) of that ship routinely deal with.
But this pressure is not coming from port authorities, but politicians and the public, who will themselves pressurise the US authorities to “do something” to prevent a repetition. If this is to be resisted, then the arguments against VTS empowerment, (which amounts to a form of remote pilotage) better be well rehearsed.”
He concludes: “It is the person conning that ship who will detect the first signs of a ship falling off its desired heading, often by eye rather than gyrocompass. Moreover it is those on the bridge, along with the ship’s lookouts who may well be the first to see the small sailing boat that, unseen by radar, is lying in the vessel’s path. By all means let us enhance the quality of VTS, to improve its trustworthyness and use. But upgrading “advice” and “information” to “instruction” from the VTS operator, might, at present, be a step too far.”
Of course the piece carries the usual meaningless disclaimer: “Articles written by the Watchkeeper and other outside contributors do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of BIMCO.” but I’ll beat you a seam of caulk it is.