Leonardo VTS Systems protects Ports, Coasts, Seas

Leonardo has been building Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) systems since 1990 to guarantee a constantly improving level of safety and efficiency for maritime traffic.

Despite their ever-growing importance, systems to monitor and manage maritime traffic are not well-known among the general public.

The evolution of VTS

It was 1948 when the Port of Liverpool first used radar to assist the pilots of vessels. This first step led, in 1957, to the foundation of the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities (IALA), with the aim of encouraging its members to work together in a common effort to “foster the safe, economic and efficient movement of vessels, through improvement and harmonisation of aids to navigation worldwide and other appropriate means, for the benefit of the maritime community and the protection of the environment”.

Two decades later, Canada developed its own control system for maritime traffic on large rivers to prevent collisions and groundings in the event of fog, snow and ice in the narrowest points. The Canadian VTS system was the first to have an economic goal, being developed to increase the efficiency of ports and lower the risk of accidents.

Integrating radar and computer capability

But the decisive step towards the current systems was taken in 1983, when the VTS of the Port of London integrated radar technology with a computer for the first time. This was where the revolution began, and during the 1980s, VTS systems became widely used in the ports of northern Europe and the main Asian hubs.

In 1985, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) issued the first guidelines for VTS, combining the need for “efficiency” with the concept of “safety”, thereby defining a wider remit for these systems.

Protecting Italy’s coastline and maritime interests

In 1990, the Italian Ministry of the Merchant Navy commissioned the Selenia company (as it was then known; today Leonardo) to carry out an “Executive Study of the Italian National VTS”. This resulted in the first Italian VTS systems being launched in Messina, Naples, Livorno and Genova.

Eight years later, the Ministry announced a tender for the design of the entire national VTS system to cover a large part of the Italian coast. In 1999, a consortium led by what is now Leonardo won the contract, with their proposed solution based upon the findings of the Executive Study in 1990.

Management of the new national VTMIS (Vessel Traffic Management and Information System) was entrusted to the Italian Coast Guard, with the main mission of “safeguarding human lives at sea and the maritime environment” through the following functions:

>Preventing maritime accidents (collisions and groundings) with the consequent protection of the environment
>Monitoring compliance with the rules of navigation
>Aiding navigation in narrow waters
>Supporting Search and Rescue (SAR) operations
>Port Approach Control (PAC) and Port Management
>Traffic control at regional level
>Port Management Information System (PMIS) for performing administrative procedures relating to the arrival and departure of vessels

The 9/11 terrorist attacks triggered a radical change in security policies throughout the world; the new watchwords became “asymmetric threat”, and the protection of borders and critical infrastructures meant no longer just guaranteeing “safety”, but also investing in “security”.

This new climate also had a significant impact on VTS systems, which, from then on, were also employed for maritime ”security”, as well as for ensuring the efficiency, safety and protection of our seas, coasts and port infrastructures, while raising the level of attention paid to the environment.

Over the past 20 years, Leonardo has created the most extensive VTS system in the world, making Italian waters and the country as a whole safer.

This success has also been extended overseas, with Leonardo installing VTS systems in Poland, Turkey, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Serbia, testimony to the excellence of Leonardo in creating systems for the management and control of maritime security.