New AIS System Reduces Rate of Maritime Accidents in Malaysia

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Maritime safety is a concern that extends well beyond the perimeters of a ship. Although cruise lines have been at the forefront in the media lately following a series of accidents and injuries, it is important not to forget that boats and cargo vessels are often involved in accidents at sea as well. And in the wake of U.S. maritime companies being blamed for an overall lack of safety in the industry, another country is taking a step forward in the right direction to prevent incidents from taking place by installing a new tracking system in small shipping vessels.

According to Malaysian Marine Department (MMD) Maritime Director-General Datuk Ahmad Othman, the number of accidents at sea has been drastically declining and it’s all because of a new tracking system on ships – AIS.

Since the installation of the Automatic Identification System (AIS) in shipping vessels under 15 tonnes in 2011, the accident rate in the Straits of Malacca, an area where maritime traffic is high, has been drastically reduced. The innovative tracking system broadcasts a ship’s information, including its current position, course and speed, to other vessels and maritime authorities through radio or satellite links. This allows other vessels in the area to anticipate other ships, charter courses around them if necessary and overall, reduce the number of ship collisions in the Straits.


“The drop in accident rates is due to improved monitoring systems as we are installing the AIS in small boats. With the AIS we can start to track small boats and minimize accidents,” said Ahmad, responding to statistics discussed by Transport Minister Kong Cho Ha at the MMD’s 60th anniversary celebration yesterday.

According Kong, 102 shipping vessel accidents were reported to the MMD in 2010, 85 cases in 2011 and 40 in 2012, a tremendous improvement and sign that the AIS plays a critical role in reducing vessel collisions.

“On average, 70,000 merchant vessels use the Straits of Malacca annually, and this figure does not include small fishing vessels, of which 30,000 use the strait annually,” said Kong.

But just like the maritime accidents in the U.S., Ahmad explained that most of the merchant ship collisions were the result of human error.

“The general causes [for the accidents] include poor monitoring of navigation equipment by ship crews. These accidents usually involve small boats colliding with big ships. However, it has been a while since a big collision occurred since the AIS system had been installed on small boats and big ships.”
Because the size of shipping vessels has been steadily increasing, the need for more advanced safety protocols is critical to ensuring that no one is injured in the open waters.

The same goes for cargo vessels here in the United States, but unfortunately, despite the several technologies available for reducing the number of maritime accidents, we still report some of the worst cases of boat collisions and cruise ship accidents.

The International Maritime Organization’s International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea requires the AIS to be installed onboard all ships that travel internationally that are 300 gross tones and larger and all passenger ships regardless of size. However, maritime accidents continue to occur and are increasing at an alarming rate.

Hopefully other maritime authorities will see the effectiveness of this system and mandate its inclusion and use in all vessels using the open seas in the very near future to reduce incidents and preserve the safety of seafarers, cruise passengers and boaters.

Photo Credit: AIS technology – imo.org