January 30th 2019

MM&P members Michael Jessner and Laura Kovary, both experienced shipmasters, have reported on the problem of watchstanders confronted with ECDIS screens showing tens or even hundreds of AIS targets of the same triangular shape as vessels but that are, in reality, buoys attached to fishing nets.

“I have been working on getting the word out to the maritime industry about the growing problem of AIS transponders on fishing nets in the China Sea,” says Jessner, who sails for APL.

“The issue is not the fault of the AIS but the inappropriate use of the technology,” Kovary writes in an article on Jessner’s experiences published by gCaptain on Dec. 27 under the title “AIS Problems Revealed in East China Sea.”

“Local fishermen discovered that by putting AIS transponders on their fishing nets, large ships would change course for the nets, thinking they were vessels,” Kovary writes.

“AIS transponders on fishing buoys are causing watch officers a lot of grief when transiting the China Sea,” Jessner says.

Chinese fishing boats will even “call the vessel by name and demand that it change course to whatever they deem fit,” he adds, “even if it puts the vessel on a collision course with other vessels.”

AIS was created as a safety system for ships to allow for better communication and clarification of meeting and passing information.

It was never intended as a tracking device for unmanned craft, buoys or fishing nets.

In U.S. waters, the use of the transponders on anything other than a vessel is prohibited by the Coast Guard.

Internationally, however, it’s a different story.

“The performance and carriage requirements for AIS are covered by the IMO Maritime Safety Committee and the SOLAS Convention,” says MM&P Vice President George Quick.

“They are mandatory requirements applicable to ships, but there is no absolute prohibition on their use for other purposes as such was never contemplated.”

“The issues raised by the article and Capt. Jessner are very valid and should be addressed by IMO,” Quick says.

Jessner proposes that “AIS should have different categories for cargo ships, fishing boats, sailboats, restricted vessels and fishing buoys… which will translate on the ECDIS as different symbols.”

“This will help the watch officer maneuver to a safe area and decrease stress levels,” he writes.

“Also will help with STCW rest hours by not having to call out additional lookouts.”

To read Kovary’s article in gCaptain, go to: