Satellite system to monitor SA waters

15 March 2011

The South African Maritime Safety Authority has installed a sophisticated satellite navigation system that enables it to track vessels up to 1 000 nautical miles from SA’s coastline, enabling it to keep an eye on incidents of piracy as well as monitor ships that pollute South African waters.

The SA Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) is responsible for ensuring the safety of life and property in South African waters, whether it be cargo which might cause an environmental risk if improperly packaged or vessels and seafarers that come under threat.

Through the new system, Samsa’s Centre for Sea Watch and Response (CSWR) has the capacity to identify and track vessels up to 1 000 nautical miles (1 850 kilometres) from the South African coastline, as well as South Africa flagged (South African registered) vessels anywhere in the world.

The system – known as Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) – enables the maritime authority to communicate directly with ships, improving the quality of information exchanged with the vessel’s master, who at all times has to be fully appraised of any situation which may develop.

Protecting the maritime environment

CSWR executive Karl Otto told delegates at an international conference hosted by Samsa last week that the authority was determined to protect seafarers, the coastline and the marine environment.

The conference, looking at the transportation of cargo, was told that Samsa’s responsibility to ensure that cargo was safe started from the time the cargo entered the high seas till the time the vessel had docked.

According to Otto, international trade makes up over 50% of South Africa’s GDP and over 95% of international trade is transported via the sea.

The introduction of the system also follows concerns over the standard of ships within South African waters; the high levels of cargo which are at risk, such as fuels and oils; and the threat of pollution.

“This is a revolutionary development in the security of our seas,” Otto said. “Until now we had very limited capacity to identify, track and monitor shipping beyond the horizon. Many ships have sailed our waters without our knowledge. Some may even have polluted our waters unbeknown to us.

“Until now we have not been able to track vessels which may have carried toxic and hazardous cargo to South African ports or were transiting our waters to foreign destinations,” he said.

Partnership to combat piracy

While the movement of cargo along the South African coast has not been affected by piracy to date, the LRIT navigation system is in place to monitor South African waters.

Samsa, through the International Maritime Organisation, has extended an invitation to other African countries and member states to use the revolutionary equipment.

There is a Maritime Safety Committee (which includes the Department of Transport, SAMSA, the Navy and others) established to deal with the problem of piracy.

With non-stop warnings of piracy moving into South Africa’s waters, it has put the government on high alert. To this end, the South African government has sent the SS Mendi to Mozambican waters to assist.

SAinfo reporter

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