The severe risks and repercussions off switching of the AIS

Many shipowners, operators and crews are unaware that a small security risk is not a valid reason for switching off the ship’s Automatic Identification System (AIS). Even more are oblivious to the consequences of doing so – which range from heavy fines to detention – if smuggling is suspected, vessels pose a safety risk in a high-traffic area, a charter party has been breached, or there has been non-compliance with individual country requirements.

Ashok Srinivasan, Manager Maritime Safety and Security at BIMCO, says: “Switching off the AIS is inviting a risk of a fine, as you are potentially breaching the national requirements. But even worse, you are increasing the risk of collision. AIS greatly assists the bridge team and a target without AIS information can send confusing signals to the other ships”.

Sirinivasan believes that to comply with the regulations, the AIS should be left on for likely 99% of the time.

“A rising number of national governments are currently issuing circulars alerting ships to not switch the AIS off. Switching it could send a signal that the ship is seeking to hide activity such as illegal fishing, dealing with a sanctioned country, carrying Iranian oil to North Korea or smuggling other contraband, and therefore wishing to hide the ship’s location and route” he says.

“Failing to keep the AIS on could lead to heavy fines” says Srinivasan. “While the authorities do not specify the size of the fines, according to reports, they could go up to 20,000 US dollars”

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the financial intelligence and enforcement agency of the US Treasury Department, has also recently issued guidelines backing the SOLAS position that ships must keep the AIS on at all times, unless in immediate danger.

Grant Hunter, Head of Contracts and Clauses at BIMCO, says: “The problem we have seen emerging is that the AIS clauses that many have started adding to the contracts are badly drafted.”

Read more here: Security – BIMCO Bulletin (