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Vessel traffic services compliance and enforcement framework

We are responsible for authorising and auditing of vessel traffic services (VTS) authorities in Australia.

The VTS compliance and enforcement policy framework sets out the arrangements for:

  • Complying with Australia’s international obligations under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974 (SOLAS) with regards to establishing a policy with respect to violations of VTS regulatory requirements and ensure that this policy is consistent with national law
  • Dealing with violations of VTS regulatory requirements, in accordance with Commonwealth law and the AMSA compliance and enforcement policy.

The framework supports our compliance and enforcement policy and associated compliance and enforcement protocol from the Navigation Act 2012 (the Navigation Act).

Regulatory framework

Australia is signatory to International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974 (SOLAS). In accordance with Regulation 12 of Chapter V of SOLAS, Australia has undertaken to establish VTS where, in its opinion, the volume of traffic or the degree of risk justifies such services. In doing so, Australia is required to follow the guidelines developed by the IMO for VTS, in IMO Resolution A.857(20) (the Guidelines). Paragraph 2.2.2.12 of the Guidelines provides that:

In planning and establishing a VTS, the … competent authority [AMSA] should establish a policy with respect to violations of VTS regulatory requirements, and ensure that this policy is consistent with national law.

Australia has implemented its obligations under SOLAS in the the Navigation Act, which also enables regulations to be made for VTS. Accordingly, Marine Order 64 (Vessel Traffic Services) provides that we are the competent authority for VTS in Australia. Marine Order 64 (Vessel Traffic Services) also makes provision for the regulation of:

  • VTS authorities, including authorisation, certification and auditing
  • VTS training organisations, including accreditation, approval of model courses and auditing
  • Masters of vessels to provide reports required by VTS authorities and to comply with their instructions.

Marine Order 64 (Vessel Traffic Services) states that it is a condition of authorisation that a VTS authority operates in accordance with the guidelines. Section 2.2.3.8 of the guidelines provides that a VTS authority must:

In a timely manner, provide mariners with full details of the requirements to be met and the procedures to be followed in the VTS area. This information should include the categories of vessels required or expected to participate; radio frequencies to be used for reporting; areas of applicability; the times and geographical positions for submitting reports; the format and content of the required reports; the VTS authority responsible for the operation of the service; any information, advice or instructions to be provided to participating ships; and the types and level of services available. This information should be published in the appropriate nautical publications and in the World VTS Guide.

We keep you informed about VTS areas through Marine Notice (8/2014) including key information about the VTS, contact details etc. We also ensure through routine compliance audits that the VTS authority provides information on, for example World VTS Guide, ALRS etc.

Overview of VTS offence provisions

VTS offence provisions under the Navigation Act and Marine Order 64 include:

The Navigation Act Fault-based offence Civil penalty
Section 215—Provision of reports to a VTS authority
When a person is required by regulations to provide a report or information to a VTS authority and they do not provide the report or information.
240 penalty units 2400 penalty units
Section 216—Provision of false or misleading information provided to a VTS authority
When a person provides a report or information to a VTS authority and the report or information is false or misleading in material particular.
240 penalty units 2400 penalty units
Marine Order 64:   Civil penalty
Section 33—Masters to provide reports to a VTS authority
The Master of a vessel must give the VTS authority each report or information required by the VTS authority
As per section 215 of the Navigation Act As per section 215 of the Navigation Act
Section 34—Masters to comply with instructions of a VTS authority (strict liability offence)
The master of a vessel must comply with each instruction for the movement of a the vessel given by the VTS authority
50 penalty units 50 penalty units

Note: One penalty unit equals A$180.

National policy framework

Maritime safety legislation places obligations on maritime operators and other parties to ensure safety and protection of the marine environment, in the circumstances and to the standards specified in the legislation.

All persons with obligations under the legislation may be subject to compliance monitoring and investigation by AMSA, and where appropriate the use of compliance and enforcement measures including prosecution.

Our compliance and enforcement policy describes how we may use the compliance and enforcement powers that the maritime legislation provides to achieve the objectives of that legislation. In addition it provides the mechanism to ensure that decision making in regard to our regulatory functions is consistent, transparent and fair and that we are accountable.

The policy supports a graduated approach to compliance and enforcement, recognising that both compliance mechanisms and enforcement mechanisms are necessary to provide an effective and flexible regulatory system.

In the event of any inconsistency between this policy and the legislation under which we exercise a statutory function, power or discretion, the legislation will prevail.

Key documents are:

VTS compliance and enforcement framework

The VTS compliance and enforcement policy sets out the arrangements for dealing with violations of VTS regulatory requirements in accordance with the Navigation Act, Marine Order 64 (Vessel Traffic Services) and our compliance and enforcement policy. In particular, it aims to achieve compliance with VTS regulations by:

  • Raising awareness and encouraging and educating the shipping industry and other maritime users to comply with legislation
  • Providing an effective deterrent capability (detection, penalties and prosecution) against non-compliance
  • Ensuring that compliance and enforcement action is consistent, transparent and fair.

The responsibilities for VTS compliance and enforcement are:

  • VTS authorities—undertake co-operative compliance (ie engagement and education, advice and warnings) within their defined VTS areas
  • AMSA—undertake all enforcement action, including infringement notices, detention, civil penalty, and prosecution.

VTS authority

The VTS authority is responsible for undertaking cooperative compliance within their defined VTS areas, noting that they:

  • Have detailed knowledge of the VTS’s reporting requirements, procedures to be followed and the requirements of allied services within their area
  • Already publish information about their individual VTS as per IMO Resolution A.857(20): 
    • Common mechanisms include: user guides, handbooks, ALRS, websites, world VTS guide and allied services etc
    • We would validate this through the audit process associated with VTS appointment
  • Have detailed information readily available regarding an event / incident (eg traffic image, identity of the vessel, voice recordings, etc)
  • Have the capacity to interact immediately with individual vessels and allied services within the VTS area in real time—for example VHF radio.

The key responsibilities associated with co-operative compliance include:

  • Engagement and education of mariners
  • Provision of advice and warnings
  • Advising AMSA about any suspected offences or instances of non-compliance
  • Monitoring compliance trends.

Engagement and education

VTS authorities are responsible for engaging, educating and assisting mariners to meet their obligations with regards to VTS under the Navigation Act. This may be achieved through:

  • The use of educational campaigns to provide information and advice.
  • Providing targeted and general publications about their individual VTS as the guidelines. Common mechanisms could include: user guides, handbooks, ALRS, websites, world VTS guide and allied services etc.
  • Engagement and education of the master (eg via VHF radio) through clarifying any questions the master may have with regards to VTS procedures and requirements. Informing the master of his obligations with regards to reporting requirements and, where appropriate, complying with instructions. Raising awareness of the benefits of complying with the VTS requirements, and the potential consequences of non-compliance.
  • Liaising broadly with the maritime community regarding VTS requirements.

Advice and warnings

Provision of advice or a warning may be appropriate in circumstances where there is a lack of awareness about, or misinterpretation of, the law or the circumstances surrounding it are minor in nature.

There is no legal obligation for an operator to comply with advice or a warning, as these are only given to facilitate compliance on the requirements of the law. However, where advice or a specific warning with regard to non-compliant behaviour is ignored, we may consider it appropriate to adopt a different compliance option.

Advice

Advice is given in good faith, based on the considered view and experience of the VTS authority. Such advice might take the form of a verbal reminder with regards to reporting requirements and obligations, issuing of a Marine notice, etc.
In issuing advice, the VTS authority should clearly communicate that the advice is being issued under Marine Order 64 (Vessel Traffic Services). This should also be clearly reflected in the VTS operating procedures to assist VTSOs clearly distinguish that the advice is to be issued under Marine Order 64 (Vessel Traffic Services) rather than other legislative provisions such as Harbour Masters directions (or equivalent).

Further guidance and examples of providing advice is included in Annex A.

It should be noted that the Navigation Act provides that the master of a vessel is not relieved from responsibility for the conduct and navigation of a vessel merely because the vessel is subject to vessel traffic service arrangements. 

Warning

A warning to a ships master needs to clearly articulate circumstances for the decision, outlining the unacceptable behaviour and potential future actions if the warning is ignored. It should be noted that:

  • A warning may be provided verbally (eg by VHF radio), however, the VTS authority must ensure that appropriate records of the incident are kept (eg voice wave files, transcripts etc)
  • A warning may be provided in writing by the VTS authority. An email or letter to the master is considered suitable. 
  • We are to be advised of all warnings issued as this could be taken into consideration should further enforcement action be required. We may choose to notify the flag state of warnings that have been issued.  

The alleged VTS non-compliance report is to be used for reporting warnings issued.

  • A VTS authority may deem it necessary to escalate a non-compliance matter at any point to us without issuing a warning.
  • VTS authorities are to maintain a register of all warnings issued. The type of information recorded should at least include:
    • date
    • vessel details (eg shipname, IMO number)
    • particulars on the event / incident
    • nature of the action taken

Further guidance and examples of warnings is included in Annex B.

Recommending enforcement action

Where the VTS authority considers enforcement action may be required, the VTS authority should notify us, as soon as is practicable, about any alleged offences or instances of non-compliance by masters of ships to which Marine Order 64 (Vessel Traffic Services) applies. 

The VTS authority may choose to undertake an investigation of the events/issues prior to notifying us.  

The alleged VTS non-compliance report should be used.

The report, along with any supporting information (eg chartlets, voice recordings etc), should be provided to assist us to assess and determine the appropriate action to be taken.

It is recognised that depending on the nature and severity of the non-compliance event there will be different types of supporting information required such as chartlets, voice recordings etc. Also, depending on the situation and level of investigation or prosecution required, other details such as how long the vessel may be in port and next port of call could be relevant. 

Where the situation is deemed to be urgent and in need of our prompt consideration the VTS authority should contact RCC on 1800 641 792.

Monitoring compliance trends

VTS authorities should monitor compliance trends and adjust their co-operative compliance strategy as a means to improve compliance. This may result in a focused campaign to validate emerging threats and risks to the VTS area based on compliance trends.

AMSA—competent authority for VTS

We are responsible for:

  1. Undertaking all enforcement action. Enforcement options available under the Navigation Act include infringement notice, detention, civil penalty, and prosecution. We will assess the type of enforcement action to be taken on a case-by-case basis in a manner consistent with our compliance and enforcement policy.
  2. Providing formal feedback to individual VTS authorities regarding the compliance action undertaken (ie proceed or not to proceed, the reasons and outcomes).
  3. Ensuring VTS authorities operate in accordance with the policy and procedural framework for VTS compliance through the auditing provisions prescribed in Marine Order 64 (Vessel Traffic Services), Division 3—Auditing VTS authorities.

Annex A—guidance on issuing advice

Advice will generally take the form of a verbal reminder with regards to reporting requirements and obligations under the Navigation Act and Marine Order 64 (Vessel Traffic Services). 
In most cases it is envisaged that potential compliance issues would be resolved through the VTSOs engagement and education of the master through:

  • Clarifying any questions the master may have with regards to VTS procedures / requirements
  • Informing the master of his obligations with regards to reporting requirements and, where appropriate, complying with instructions
  • Raising awareness of the benefits of complying with the VTS requirements, and the potential consequences of non-compliance.

However, a VTSO may deem it necessary to issue an advice where, based on their knowledge and experience, it would appear that there is a lack of awareness about, or misinterpretation of, the requirement or the circumstances surrounding it are minor in nature.

Example - Failure to provide an Entry Report

'INFORMATION—You have entered the 'XXX VTS' Area without providing an Entry Report.  An entry report is mandatory under the Navigation Act and Marine Order 64 Vessel Traffic Services. The reporting requirements for 'XXX VTS' are available from <list source/s>'
'ADVICE—Provide your Entry Report.'

Note: In issuing advice the VTS authority should clearly communicate that the advice is being issued under Marine Order 64 (Vessel Traffic Services). 

The VTS operating procedures should clearly reflect this to assist the VTSO clearly communicate that the advice is being issued under Marine Order 64 (Vessel Traffic Services) rather than other legislative provisions such as Harbour Masters directions (or equivalent).

Annex B—guidance on issuing warnings

A warning may be provided verbally (e.g. by VHF radio) or in writing (e.g. by email, letter, etc) by the VTS authority. An email or letter to the master is considered suitable.  A warning must:

  • Clearly articulate circumstances for the decision
  • Outline the unacceptable behaviour and potential future actions if the warning is ignored.

Recognising that it is anticipated that the majority of warnings will be made via VHF voice communications the following example is provided:

Example - Failure to comply with an instruction

'WARNING. There is a restricted area south of you distance 1.2 nautical miles.'

'INSTRUCTION. Do not enter this area.'

Vessel continues to proceed to the restricted area

'INFORMATION.  'XXX VTS' is authorised under the Navigation Act to issue instructions to vessels in its capacity as a VTS authority, authorised by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. You are required by law to comply with those instructions.

Entering the Restricted Area may endanger the safety of the activities being conducted in the restricted area or the safety of your vessel.'

'ADVICE—Failure to comply with instructions may result in enforcement action being initiated.  Significant penalties may apply.'

'INSTRUCTION. Do not enter this area.'

It should be noted that the Navigation Act provides that a requirement under a law of the Commonwealth, state or territory that VTS arrangements be complied with does not affect the liability of the owner or master of a vessel that complies with such arrangements for loss or damage caused by the vessel or by a fault of the navigation of the vessel.

In some instances the VTS authority determines that the warning should be in writing, the correspondence should similarly:

  • Clearly articulate circumstances for the decision.
  • Outline the unacceptable behaviour and potential future actions if the warning is ignored.

Note: In issuing a warning the VTS authority should clearly communicate that the warning is being issued under the Navigation Act and Marine Order 64 (Vessel Traffic Services). The VTS operating procedures should clearly reflect this to assist the VTSO to clearly communicate that the warning is being issued under Marine Order 64 (Vessel Traffic Services) rather than other legislative provisions such as Harbour Masters directions (or equivalent).

Last updated: 20 February 2018
Last reviewed: 20 February 2018