AIS switch-off abuse tackled by BIMCO

PHOTO: Ulf Larsen

BIMCO has announced the upcoming introduction of a new charter party clause which aims to target the potential abuse of Automatic Identification System (AIS) operation by vessels looking to circumvent sanctions, while also protecting ships from being punished for legitimate AIS signal interruptions.

AIS, a mandatory carriage requirement for SOLAS vessels, transmits information about a ship that includes its identity and position. It is required to be active at all times except in very specific permitted safety and security situations, such as avoiding detection by pirates in high-risk areas.

In May 2020, the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a shipping advisory on sanctions compliance, which recommended that the industry should include an AIS ‘switch off’ clause in shipping contracts so that shipowners, charterers and operators could terminate partnerships with any party that demonstrates “a pattern of multiple instances of AIS manipulation that is inconsistent with SOLAS.”

BIMCO has responded to this by noting its concern that some charterers may, in trying to ensure sanctions compliance, “develop their own AIS switch off clauses that might expose owners to the risk of being terminated even when the AIS has been switched off for legitimate reasons, or the signal has failed to transmit or be received for reasons outside the owners’ control.”

As such, BIMCO has started work on its own ‘switch off’ clause, which is targeted for publication in May and will address the use of the AIS both during the charter party and prior to the contract, while also recognising that there may be legitimate reasons why the ship’s AIS signal has been interrupted.

The Organisation says that covering prior historical use before the charter party is an important element of the contract as OFAC guidelines are focused on identifying ongoing patterns in AIS manipulation by ships rather than isolated one-off incidents.

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Rob O'Dwyer

Rob is Chief Network Officer and one of the founders of Smart Maritime Network. He also serves as Chairman of the Smart Maritime Council. Rob has worked in the maritime technology sector since 2005, managing editorial for a range of leading publications in the transport and logistics sector. Get in touch by email by clicking here, or on LinkedIn by clicking here.

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