Pirates and AIS

I noticed this posting on a message board today:

Arild said: “…On Nov 26 a report from IMO indicated that pirates may be using AIS to track and pinpoint target vessels. Until now it was assumed the pirates were simply attacking any vessels of opportunity. Debriefings of captured pirates now show they are aware of valuable ships leaving distant ports and heading towards their chosen hunting area.

One French registered luxury yacht has already been taken after it transited the Suez canal.. Pleasure yachts will be seen as lower risk targets now that armed escorts and on board mercenaries are employede to protect commercial shipping.

Suddenly AIS becomes a mixed blessing when transiting troubled waters…”

This matches what I’ve suspected.

There’s a coast guard rule that if you have safety equipment on the boat, you are required to be using it. I think it could be argued that this means that if you have AIS, then you are required to be transmitting. On the other hand, there’s a common sense rule that says that the captain’s #1 responsibility is to keep the boat and passengers safe, and if it means not going out of your way to tell pirates where you are, when in dangerous waters, then that’s possibly the smart thing to do. 

I had to make this decision when running off of Nicaragua earlier this year, and left the AIS transmitting. I had earlier thought about shutting it off, but the seas were so rough when we were there, that I was certain no pirate would be crazy enough to be away from port.

Hopefully, all the recent press around pirate attacks will cause action to be taken long before we get to that part of the world, and it will be safe cruising. If not, then we will be shipping the boat through the danger zone, or finding another route.

-Ken W

12 Responses

  1. If you are worried about being run down by another boat you could always buy a SR161 receiver for $150. This would show other vessels on your computer without transmitting from you at all. All you need is the receiver and serial to USB converter ($30). You could use a vhf splitter and run it off of your existing radio antenna or dedicate a separate antenna. For receiving purposes you do not need an AIS specific antenna. Either way you go have a safe journey.

  2. Sam: After even more googling, I agree — unless I’m missing something, there is apparently no requirement for non-commercial vessels 75 feet, but less than 300 tons, to have AIS.

  3. Ken,

    I believe that only commercial vessels over 65 feet are required to transmit AIS data. There are a lot of 65+ foot recreational boats that I see that do not transmit AIS.


  4. Tedgo: You are right. It does seem to indicate “in commercial service.” I’ll keep searching and see if I can find the citation. I am 99% certain I heard somewhere that I am required to have AIS operational.

    Overall, my guess, which doesn’t seem to be supported by the googling I’m doing today, is that within US waters, I’m required to have AIS (because I’m over 20 meters), and that outside US waters, if I don’t have it engaged, and there is a collision, the insurance company will CLAIM that I should have had it engaged.

    -Ken W

  5. Tedgo: I think the requirement for AIS is for 65 feet and up. I haven’t studied the regs recently, but here is the first thing that came up googling:

    “…46 Automatic Identification System (AIS).

    (a) The following vessels must have a properly installed, operational, type approved AIS as of the date specified:

    (1) Self-propelled vessels of 65 feet or more in length, other than passenger and fishing vessels, in commercial service and on an international voyage, not later than December 31, 2004.


    http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/ (http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/enav/ais/AIS_carriage_reqmts.htm)

    It’s a little confusing, because this seems to imply you only need AIS (and, I’m assuming they are referring to transmitting AIS) .. if you are a commercial boat, but the next section says non-commercial boats over 65′ must comply if they are in one of a group of listed localities, which seem to correspond to areas where VTS is in use.

    -Ken W

  6. Perhaps I should qualify my first sentence before there is are howls of protest. In international waters international rules apply such as the Collision Regulations. Whether there are international rules which require AIS to be transmitting at all times, if they are fitted, I am not sure, but then small boats under 300 gross tons do not have to fit AIS. I hardly think that the international powers are going to prosecute small vessels for not transmitting when there is no legal requirement to have one.

  7. Article from Reuters today:

    Nov 28 (Reuters) – Somali pirates have released the Greek MV Centauri, captured more than two months ago, a Kenyan maritime official said on Friday.

    The Centauri had a crew of 26 Filipinos and was due to discharge 17,000 tonnes of bulk salt in Mombasa in Kenya when it was hijacked in mid-September off Somalia.

    Below are some of the ships believed still to be held:

    CAPT. STEPHANOS: Seized Sept. 21. The freighter was flying the Bahamas flag. It was carrying a cargo of coal and has 17 Filipinos, one Chinese and a Ukrainian aboard.

    FAINA: Seized Sept. 24. The ship was carrying 33 T-72 tanks, grenade launchers and ammunition destined for Kenya’s Mombasa port. Pirates have demanded $20 million in ransom.

    AFRICAN SANDERLING: Seized Oct. 15. The Panama-flagged, Japanese-operated, and Korea-owned bulk carrier has 21 Filipino crew aboard.

    STOLT STRENGTH: Seized Nov. 10. The chemical tanker with 23 Filipino crew aboard was hijacked by pirates in the Gulf of Aden. It was carrying 23,818 tonnes of oil products.

    THE KARAGOL: Seized Nov. 12. The Turkish ship with 14 crew was hijacked off Yemen. It was transporting more than 4,000 tonnes of chemicals to the port of Bombay.

    TIANYU 8: Seized Nov. 13/14. The Chinese fishing boat was reported seized off Kenya. The crew included 15 Chinese, one Taiwanese, one Japanese, three Filipinos and four Vietnamese.

    CHEMSTAR VENUS: Seized Nov. 15. The combined chemical and oil tanker was travelling from Dumai, Indonesia to the Ukraine. It had 18 Filipino and five South Korean crew.

    SIRIUS STAR: Seized Nov. 15. The Saudi supertanker, the biggest ship ever hijacked, held as much as 2 million barrels of oil. Captured off east Africa, it had 25 crew from Croatia, Britain, the Philippines, Poland and Saudi Arabia.

    THE DELIGHT: Seized Nov. 18. The Hong Kong-flagged ship with 25 crew aboard is loaded with 36,000 tonnes of wheat bound for Iran. It was captured off the coast of Yemen.

    ADINA: Seized last week. The Adina is a Yemeni-operated bulk carrier and carried seven crew, including three Somalis, two Yemenis and two Panamanians.

    BISCAGLIA: Seized on Nov. 28. The Biscaglia is a Liberian-flagged chemical tanker with 30 crew on board, 25 Indians, three Britons and two Bangladeshis.

    Sources: Reuters/International Maritime Bureau Piracy Reporting Centre/Lloyds List/Inquirer.net (http://Inquirer.net)

  8. Tedego: We think alike. That’s a fun idea. I think I’ll be an American Aircraft Carrier!

    Nah… Actually, I do think that our likelihood to pass through the Gulf of Aden will depend on my ability to assemble a large fleet of boats to travel together. Kosmos (an N43) went through alone earlier this year. There’s no way I’d do that.

    The recent Somalia incidents are almost certainly going to trigger change. The pirates have gone too far. I can’t imagine there won’t be a region-wide cleanup, or escorts for vessels.

    -Ken W

  9. I think I’d configure my AIS (IF and WHEN I ever own a boat that is…) to indicate that I’m the USS Enterprise….that should keep the pirates at bay!! 🙂

  10. When you are outside of US waters, US Coast Guard Rules have no standing.

    Equally AIS could be used creatively in dangerous pirate areas. It would be quite easy, particularly with AIS units which get their position information from an external GPS unit, to broadcast misleading information. Simply connect the AIS unit to a PC and with some simple software one could move the boat 10 miles from where it actually is. Equally false coarse and speed information could be broadcast. Your boat could suddenly vanish or that you are an Indian Frigate.

    Pirate waters are not crowded with ships like the Dover Straights, so the risk of being run down by other none pirate vessels is not high.

    Seems like a software opportunity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Be the first to know when

the game releases!

Plus, receive special insider, behind the scenes, sneak peeks and interviews as the game is being made. Don’t worry. We will not spam you, and we will not flood your box with too many emails.
 — Ken Williams

Credits     |     Video produced by: Rock Steady Media     |     Teletype photo: Arnold Reinhold     |     PDP-11 photo: Trammell Hudson