Although the operation of the CNIS has made a significant contribution to the safety of navigation in the Dover Strait, the potential for serious incidents remains. Rule 10 of the International Regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea 1972, as amended (also known as the Colregs), specifies the conduct of vessels in Traffic Separation Schemes adopted by the IMO. These regulations are given force of law in UK waters by the Merchant Shipping (Distress Signals and Prevention of Collisions) Regulations 1996. Unfortunately contraventions of Rule 10 do still occur, the commonest being those listed Sections (b) to (e) of Rule 10 quoted below:
Traffic separation schemes
(a) This Rule applies to traffic separation schemes adopted by the Organization and does not relieve any vessel of her obligation under any other Rule.
(b) A vessel using a traffic separation scheme shall:
(i) proceed in the appropriate traffic lane in the general direction of traffic flow for that lane;
(ii) so far as practicable keep clear of a traffic separation line or separation zone;
(iii) normally join or leave a traffic lane at the termination of the lane, but when joining or leaving from either side shall do so at as small an angle to the general direction of traffic flow as practicable.
(c) A vessel shall, so far as practicable, avoid crossing traffic lanes but if obliged to do so shall cross on a heading as nearly as practicable at right angles to the general direction of traffic flow.
(d) (i) A vessel shall not use an inshore traffic zone when she can safely use the appropriate traffic lane within the adjacent traffic separation scheme. However, vessels of less than 20 metres in length, sailing vessels and vessels engaged in fishing may use the inshore traffic zone.
(ii) Notwithstanding sub-paragraph (d) (i), a vessel may use an inshore traffic zone when en route to or from a port, offshore installation or structure, pilot station or any other place situated within the inshore traffic zone, or to avoid immediate danger.
(e) A vessel other than a crossing vessel or a vessel joining or leaving a lane shall not normally enter a separation zone or cross a separation line except:
(i) in cases of emergency to avoid immediate danger;
(ii) to engage in fishing within a separation zone.
The full text of the COLREGS is contained in Merchant Shipping Notice (MSN) 1781. Click here to view the Regulations.
Monitoring and Enforcement
In order for the Traffic Separation Scheme to function properly and minimise the risk of collisions, it is vital that the many vessels using the Dover Strait all comply with the regulations. Seafarers who ignore the collision regulations put their own lives and the lives of other seafarers and passengers at risk. They also risk causing major environmental damage from pollution if their failure to observe the regulations results in a collision.
Vessels contravening Rule 10 are known as Rogue Vessels. In the event of a CNIS operator observing a breach of Rule 10 occurring, for example a cargo vessel proceeding against the flow of traffic in the wrong lane, the operator will attempt to contact the master of the vessel concerned, advise the master of the problem and request that the vessel return to a proper course. If, however, the rogue vessel does not alter course and persists in navigating incorrectly, the CNIS manager issues a report to the MCA's Enforcement Unit located at Southampton. This report will include details of the offending vessel's course as plotted by the CNIS radar. CNIS operators are also able to warn other vessels of such additional dangers to navigation during their VHF broadcasts on Channel 11.
The Enforcement Unit will investigate the actions of the vessel and its Master and take further action If the breach of collision regulations proves to be significant. If the rogue vessel is a non-UK vessel simply "passing through" the Dover Strait and not calling at any UK port, a report is forwarded to the maritime administration of the vessel's flag state for action. In the case of a UK vessel, or a foreign flag vessel trading in UK waters, the MCA has the option of prosecuting the Master or owner of the vessel if there is sufficient evidence and the seriousness of the case means that it is in the public interest to prosecute.
The full CNIS radar system not only tracks the course of vessels navigating in the Dover Strait for display on the operators' screens, but is also able to record the vessel's passage for analysis and evidence in a court of law. The latest system is capable of recording the passage of a rogue vessel as an avi format video file which can be played back on most modern personal computers. CNIS operators can also call on the use of a dedicated spotter plane in identifying rogue vessels. This aircraft is fitted with sophisticated night vision equipment, capable of identifying vessels contravening the TSS regulations during the hours of darkness. Infra red photographs from this source have successfully been used in the prosecution of offenders.
Eye in the Sky
The MCA spotter plane is stationed on the Kent Coast and is able to identify vessels (including those without AIS transponders) which are suspected of breaching COLREGS or being responsible for pollution offences
Darkness Offers no Cover
A still image taken from a video clip recorded by the aircraft's night imaging system. This was sufficient to identify a large racing yacht in breach of rule 10(b)i
Master of Merchant Vessel Prosecuted for breach of Rule 10
At Channel Magistrates Court, Folkestone on 15th March 2004 the Master of the cargo ship STORMAN ASIA pleaded guilty to entering and proceeding for over 14.5 miles in the wrong direction in the Dover Straits Traffic Separation Scheme. Folkestone Magistrates fined the Italian Master of the STORMAN ASIA, Captain Paulo Ravalico, age 47, a total of £14,000, plus £6,042 costs. In summing up the Magistrates said “Captain Ravalico had been repeatedly warned about the hazards and that he had caused another vessel to take evasive action”. The fine was imposed for a breach of Rule 10(b)(i) of the Collision Regulations, in that the STORMAN ASIA did not proceed in the appropriate traffic lane in the general direction of traffic flow for that lane.
On 6th September 2003, the STORMAN ASIA was navigating in the North East bound lane of the Dover Strait traffic separation scheme bound for Middlesbrough. After advising H.M. Coastguard of her intention to cross the South West bound lane, Captain Ravalico proceeded to cross the SW bound lane at an acute angle and then proceeded for 14.5 nautical miles against the general direction of traffic flow, contrary to Rule 10(b)(i) of The Merchant Shipping (Distress Signals and Prevention of Collisions) regulations 1996. From 19:17 UTC on 6th September when the STORMAN ASIA commenced crossing the SW bound lane she was additionally responsible for 6 close quarters situations with ships proceeding in the SW lane.
To view the actual video clip used in the prosecution case, click here. Please note that the file is a 3Mb AVI file and allow time for it to download. The clip is best viewed in full screen in Windows Media Player. The track of the STORMAN ASIA can be seen leaving the NE Lane in the bottom centre left of the picture and passing close to a number of vessels in the SW Lane. Towards the end of the clip, the container ship MAERSK CONSTANTIA can be observed changing course sharply to avoid a collision with the rogue vessel.