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Navigational safety doesn't come free

Sean Moloney reports on the importance of maintaining navigational safety and the reasons why the industry must pay up.

The importance of ensuring safe navigation in today's major sea lanes has never come into question especially when you consider the important role it plays in protecting life at sea as well as preventing pollution. But these things do not come cheaply, which is why the International Foundation for Aids to Navigation (IFAN) has had to act regarding payment for assisting the transiting of vessels in the Middle East Gulf.

At a recent meeting of the IFAN board in London, the issue of non-payment of navigational dues was highlighted as critical to the ongoing modernisation and provision of aids to navigation in the Middle East Gulf region. The Middle East Navigation Aids Service (MENAS, a subsidiary of IFAN) has been providing these services since 1911 as no state owns the Aids to Navigation (AtoN) in the joint waters of the Gulf. This service is funded exclusively via "Nav Dues" payments and the sustainability of the existing service, on which the shipping industry depends, is totally dependent on receipt of these Nav Dues.

The board, which is made up of the senior executives of some of the world's largest ship owners, confirmed that plans to recapitalise DGPS (differential global positioning system) services in the Middle East Gulf will be funded from navigational dues from ship owners. "Nav Dues are essential to ensure MENAS can continue to provide aids to navigation in the region. All ships in the area share the benefit of these well-maintained navigational aids".

"Nav Dues are essential to ensure MENAS can continue to provide aids to navigation in the region. All ships in the area share the benefit of these well-maintained navigational aids"

Alan Marsh, newly elected chairman of IFAN, said the Foundation and MENAS, were committed to providing world class navigational aids, including maritime safety broadcasts to seafarers, in the region. But he stressed it was essential that users fully contributed to the running cost of the services provided by MENAS.

Peter Stanley, CEO of IFAN, said: "MENAS will continue to provide services, but sadly ship owners may not even know that these are provided by MENAS and some question the need to pay Nav Dues whilst transiting these highly important and congested waters. "These Nav Dues are essential to ensure MENAS can continue to provide aids to navigation in the region while there is no alternative service provider or navigational system providing as accurate a service. All ships in the area share the benefit of these well-maintained navigational aids."

MENAS is currently the Gulf region's leading innovator in the development, fabrication, supply and maintenance of AtoNs. Operating from its main base in Bahrain and a support base in Abu Dhabi, MENAS owns and maintains an extensive network of buoys, lighthouses and DGPS transmitters. It also provides essential information and advice such as the issuance of "Notices to Mariners", advising on hazards to shipping and coordinating additions to navigation charts for the Gulf. More than 2,000 vessels rely on MENAS equipment and services each month.

MENAS is an associate member of the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities (IALA) which has agreed to partner MENAS in the provision of training AtoN technical personnel in the region starting in the third quarter of this year. Since 1997, MENAS established and continues to operate a free-to-air differential global positioning system (DGPS) for the region. An upgraded service as well as complimentary terrestrial based services are being developed, the latter still dependent on international protocols being developed and agreed. The company has deployed automatic identification system (AIS) equipment across its equipment network to both enhance the service to mariners and improve performance monitoring of AtoNs: the MENAS Operations Centre in Bahrain records status, performance and reliability of AtoNs using the AIS system and satellite-based monitoring.

MENAS conducts individual AtoN risk assessments for each area of activity undertaken. MENAS AtoNs are grouped into 19 zones, determined through usage factors such as whether they provide mariners guidance in a specific area or whether they mark an isolated or specific danger. MENAS's NAVPLAN covers the factors used to determine the risk to persons, facilities ashore and the coastal environment; shipping, seafarers and the marine environment.

For each zone, a level of service statement (LOS) for the type of appropriate AtoN has been developed together with an operational performance statement (OPS) which defines the maximum operational capability of an AtoN within that zone. The combination of LOS for type and operational performance statements provides a commitment by MENAS to all mariners navigating in each zone.

To maintain AtoNs, MENAS has two operational teams (an offshore and onshore team) managed by dedicated project managers, together with contracted support by vessel suppliers in Bahrain and the UAE. The offshore team is responsible for all offshore activities, while shore operations including AtoN yard activities are all handled by the onshore team. All MENAS senior personnel are highly experienced professionals with a broad depth of knowledge of the AtoN industry. All MENAS senior managers/engineers hold the following training certificates:

  • Lloyds ISO auditors/lead auditors.
  • High impact leadership.
  • Risk assessment awareness.
  • Incident investigation and root causes analysis.
  • Different levels of engineering degree certificates.
  • IALA Level 1 - AtoN managers
  • Quality control and assurance of AtoNs
  • High level management in operating and maintaining AIS/ DGPS systems
  • Offshore survival courses, first aid and firefighting courses.
  • UK Eng1 Medical Certs/HSE - onshore/offshore.

Notices to mariners provide essential, up-to-date information and advice to mariners navigating within the Middle East Gulf. Subjects include (but are not limited to) notification of works and events, of a permanent or semi-permanent nature, which may impact on navigation. Each notice specifies the original source of the information and refers to the British Admiralty Chart(s) affected by the notice. MENAS also issues a monthly summary of its notices to mariners, which ensures dissemination of information to all major hydrographic offices worldwide.

Notices to mariners provide essential, up-to-date information and advice to mariners navigating within the Middle East Gulf.

According to MENAS, all vessels entering the Middle East Gulf area are liable for fees except warships unless: carrying cargo or passengers; entering for bunker fuel, stores or provision solely for their own use onboard; entering the area from "stress of weather", or for the purpose of repairing or because of damage, provided they do not discharge or load cargo other than cargo discharged with a view to such repairs and afterwards reshipped; as well as all sailing ships irrespective of tonnage, and sea-going tugs and all ships of less than 15,000 net tonnes.

The principle aim of MENAS is to provide the essential services at the lowest possible cost, without detracting from quality and efficiency and to extract maximum value from its navigation aids provision. All monies collected by MENAS go towards funding the core services and to its reserves. No funds are spent on dividends, profits, payments to sponsors or to taxation.

MENAS operates on a commercial basis and the high-level control of the service rests with the board of directors. This means that the ship owners and operators influence the way the service is run and how much they pay to meet the costs. MENAS said: "The costs to shipping for the MENAS-operated services are among the lowest in the world for this type of business. This clearly displays a determination by MENAS to provide the service with the interests of the ship owners and operators uppermost.

 "Any conceivable alternative arrangement in the region, ie. a service operated or sponsored by governments would, in all likelihood, result in higher costs to the users, a fragmented service with no representation or control on the part of the ship owners."

As seen in Maritime Risk International Magazine, published by Informa Law
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