Academic journal article Naval War College Review

NAVAL VESSEL TRAFFIC SERVICES: Enhancing the Safety of Merchant Shipping in Maritime Security Operations

Academic journal article Naval War College Review

NAVAL VESSEL TRAFFIC SERVICES: Enhancing the Safety of Merchant Shipping in Maritime Security Operations

Article excerpt

Vessel traffic services (VTSs) ensure the safe and efficient handling of traffic on busy waterways like the English Channel and the approaches toNew York. This technique, wherein electronic sensors and communication systems are used to manage traffic actively, can also be used inmaritime security operations (MSOs) to enhance safety in areas with risks related to asymmetric threats.1 Nowadays a limited form of VTS is deployed for MSO situated in international waters.These services, provided by naval cooperation and guidance for shipping (NCAGS) organizations, are focused on building maritime domain awareness (MDA) and providing naval-related safety information to merchant shipping. Structuring and monitoring of vessel traffic, unfortunately, is supported only poorly, or not at all, by NCAGS.2 This is a serious omission, as structuring and monitoring vessel traffic make earlier detection of dangerous situations possible, render ships harder to attack, and minimize possible cascading effects to ship traffic from harassment or attack. Moreover, compared to alternatives such as escorts and convoys, there would be less delay to shipping, while the need for military assetsmay be reduced through improved efficiency.

This idea has led the authors to develop a new concept, which is termed "Naval VTS." This approach combines a voluntary VTS monitoring system with a traffic organization and information service aimed at providing military commanders responsible for MSOs a level of vessel safety that makes security tasks easier to plan and perform.Navigational risks and risks related to asymmetric threats cannot always be separated,which means that Naval VTS may have to deal with both risks and that it requires flexibility in how it is established.

As proof of concept, three detailed examples will illustrate how Naval VTS would enhance the safety of merchant shipping and contribute to amore efficient use of military assets. The development of the International Recognized Transit Corridor (IRTC) in the Gulf of Aden is extensively discussed in one of the examples, as it clearly shows the progress in MSO toward the organization of maritime traffic, an important part of Naval VTS. Following the examples, the main findings are discussed and recommendations for further research are presented.


Merchant shipping today carries an estimated 80 percent of world trade on a fixed number of maritime routes, the sea lines of communication (SLOCs).3 Areas of heightened shipping density on these SLOCs-like the straits of Bab el-Mandeb, Hormuz, and Gibraltar-form choke points. Merchant ships passing these choke points are vulnerable to collision, piracy, and terrorism.

Collisions between ships could practically close a busy choke point like the Strait of Malacca. Such an accident would necessitate rerouting a significant number of merchant ships through the Lombok or Sunda straits. Rerouting causes delays and raises freight rates. This could affect many countries, as the Strait of Malacca, for instance, is the main SLOC between East Asia and the West.4 A traffic separation scheme and a mandatory reporting service (called STRAITREP) were implemented in 1981 and 1998, respectively, to enhance the safety of navigation in the Strait of Malacca, but the ever increasing volume of maritime traffic remains a source of concern.5

Piracy in the Gulf of Aden has led to higher insurance premiums, crew costs, and security costs for ships sailing through this approach to the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb. The heightened piracy risk has even caused shipping companies to reroute ships around the Cape ofGoodHope,despite the distance and expense.6 Though it occurs on the main SLOC between Asia, Europe, and the east coast of the United States, piracy in the Gulf of Aden did not cause much stir until the roll-on/roll-off ship Faina, carrying thirty-three T-72 tanks and other heavy weaponry, was hijacked there. …

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