The International Maritime Organization (IMO) last week proposed mandatory compliance by ship masters with orders from shore traffic controllers. The suggestion by IMO Secretary General
William O'Neil launched a spirited debate at a conference on navigational safety in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, hosted by the IMO and Singapore's Institute of Policy Studies.
"Under existing regulations, the VTIS (Vessel Traffic Information Systems) has the right to contact the ship concerned and warn of the danger ahead. But the shore authorities have no authority to compel a change of course," he said.
"We should ask ourselves if the time has not come to question this approach and to empower the shore authorities, in certain cases, to order ships to take whatever action is necessary to avoid an accident."
He said the shipping industry should consider emulating the relationship between airline pilots and air traffic controllers.
"There is no doubt that positive traffic control is essential in civil aviation. The principle of control has been accepted in all other modes of transport and there is no reason for not extending it to shipping, when safety would be enhanced," he said.
The comments prompted a debate on liability if the captain followed orders from shore. Participants also discussed requiring ships to be fitted with a transponder, or electronic automatic identification system with satellite communication ability that transmits the ship's name, position, speed and course.