AIS deactivation could cost fishing vessel $41K

Written by Nick Blenkey
USCG investigates Antarctic cruise passenger deaths

The U.S. Coast Guard is pursuing a civil penalty with a maximum punishment of $41,093 against a commercial fishing vessel for violating Automated Identification System (AIS) regulations near the mouth of the Columbia River on December 3, 2022.

Coast Guard Sector Columbia River detected a commercial fishing vessel deactivate its AIS while underway near the mouth of the Columbia River in violation of 33 Code of Federal Regulations 164.46(d)(2).

The captain declined to accept the Notice of Violation, issued for $5,000. Now the case has been referred to a Coast Guard Hearing Officer, with a maximum penalty of $41,093.

As this remains an active investigation, the Coast Guard is not currently releasing the name of the suspected violating vessel.

Though AIS deactivation, or “going dark,” is mostly associated with sanctions evaders, fishing vessels are never anxious to let their competitors know where they’re fishing, creating a temptation to turn off the AIS signal. In either case it creates a safety hazard. A reminder of this came in the recent NTSB report on the sinking of a tanker that was struck by a super yacht. The tanker’s AIS was inoperative at the time of the incident due to a power issue.

“AIS is essential for safe navigation and bolsters America’s security posture, beyond the requirements of the law, AIS helps keep mariners safe and our ports secure,” said Lt. Cmdr. Colin Fogarty, the Enforcement Chief for Sector Columbia River. “Particularly during crab season, weather and visibility are poor on the Oregon and Washington coasts. AIS permits vessels to show their location and avoid collisions. Unfortunately, the Coast Guard often sees mariners turning off their AIS during certain fishing seasons. Regardless of their reasons, the laws and regulations require the system be functioning and energized.”

The regulation (33 CFR 164.46) in part states that all self-propelled vessels, at a length of 65-feet or more, engaged in commercial service and operating on the Territorial Seas (within 12-nautical miles of shore) must maintain AIS in effective operating condition, which includes the continual operation of AIS and its associated devices (e.g., positioning system, gyro, converters, displays) at all times while the vessel is underway or at anchor, and, if moored, at least 15 minutes prior to getting underway, with limited exceptions. Effective operation condition also includes the accurate input and upkeep of all AIS data fields; an AIS encoding guide has been provided to facilitate complying with this requirement.

“For safety and security, the Coast Guard is constantly monitoring vessels offshore in our waterways,” Fogarty said. “When we detect a vessel not following AIS requirements, we will pursue enforcement action. $5,000 is a significant fine to pay for a secret crabbing spot, but it’s still cheaper than the safety of the crew. Our hope is that this instance will deter future violations throughout the community.”

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