The organisation representing French tuna operators has slammed Blue Marine Foundation and Bloom for failing to understand the difference between AIS and VMS – suggesting that getting wrong something so basic could be straightforward confusion, or wilfully spreading a deliberate untruth.
Blue Marine Foundation and Bloom have referred to “illegal switching off their locator beacons” in a complaint, apparently unaware that there is a difference between the anti-collision Automatic Identification System (AIS) system, which can be switched off, and Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS), which transmit vessel data to management organisations and which can not be switched off.
‘Incredible confusion or a deliberate lie, this legal action is serious because, in addition to bringing a highly regulated fishery into disrepute, it endangers lives,’ a representative of French tuna operators’ federation Orthongel stated.
Orthongel points out that the tuna fleet operates in areas where there is limited shipping traffic and little risk of collisions occurring – but these same areas are also high-risk parts of the world for piracy.
‘This is demonstrated by the five attacks since the beginning of the year recorded by military authorities in the Gulf of Guinea alone. How do pirates identify their potential targets? Quite simply by using AIS data made public by third-party organisations!’ Orthongel’s representative stated.
‘To avoid exposing themselves to the risk of piracy, tuna seiners switch off their AIS data in certain critical areas – on the recommendation of the authorities.’
While AIS is a tool designed to increase navigational safety and the efficiency of maritime traffic management, governed by the SOLAS conventions, data from AIS can be made available by third parties – such as pirates. In contrast, VMS is a fisheries control and management tool with detailed data transmitted continuously to flag and relevant fisheries management authorities – and remains accessible only to those authorities.
There is nothing unusual about switching off AIS transmission, while a failure to transmit VMS data in the event of a malfunction would immediately result in a seiner being recalled to port to rectify its equipment.
‘The Regional Fisheries Management Organisations which are the competent authorities in this sector have observed no failures on the part of French vessels. These accusations of illegal fishing are therefore unfounded and extremely serious,’ Orthongel’s representative said.