Frequently Asked Questions

Didn't the IMO condemn publishing AIS data on the internet?
Well, yes and no. In December 2004, under Maritime security - AIS ship data, they said that it was
"detrimental to the safety and security of ships and port facilities and was undermining the efforts of the Organization and its Member States to enhance the safety of navigation and security in the international maritime transport sector."

However, in the IMO FAQ on maritime security, they answer the question

Should IMO be worried about the implications of terrorists or criminals using AIS derived information to target vessels?
IMO has taken an action to cover this area of concern, i.e. that operation of AIS in certain sea areas would cause security concern because information broadcasted through AIS could be collected by pirates or terrorists. Because of this concern, the last Assembly in November 2003 adopted resolution A 956(23) Amendments to the Guidelines for the onboard operational use of shipborne automatic identification systems (AIS) resolution A.917(22) which allows ship masters to switch off the AIS in specific areas where threat of attack by pirates or terrorists are imminent.
AIS is the broadcasting device and information will be made available for everyone without any discrimination. That information will be available for the coast safety agencies and authorities and could equally be available for ill-minded people. AIS itself is a tool used in an information collection system and we can not prevent people misusing that information.
However, AIS is also useful for monitoring the situation over any particular sea area by the security authorities within the security system established by those security authorities.
Concern over the security implication of the operation of AIS can only be overcome by tightening the security control measures to be enforced by the coastal security authorities.

This point is clarified by the Maritime Coastguard Agency in Appendix 2 of MGN 298 (M):

  • A2.6. AIS is a shipboard broadcast system that acts like a transponder and operates on the VHF maritime band enabling the ship to communicate both with the shore and with other ships. Operation of AIS is a requirement under Chapter V of the amendments to SOLAS 2002. The system allows a ship's location and movements to be monitored on shore and by another suitably equipped ship up to a notional range of 35 miles. A ship with AIS installed is able to display information such as the size, speed and heading of similarly equipped ships within VHF range.

  • A2.7. Clearly the risk of having AIS turned on while a ship is transiting through an area known to have a high level of piracy attacks, is that the ship can easily be targeted and located. This is especially the case if 'would be' attackers in the vicinity have been able to obtain their own receiver. Additionally, the advent of open source on-line AIS information has also increased the 'visibility' of ships using AIS. While it is not recommended under ISPS Regulations to turn AIS off as this may affect the safety of the ship, if a situation arises where the Master of the Ship feels under threat by keeping AIS turned on, then UK flagged ships should conduct a risk assessment. If the assessment determines that the threat to the security of the ship is greater than the threat to safety, then the Master should turn AIS off while the threat remains present. This however may not be the position of other Flag States and Masters and crew of ships should establish their own policy on AIS use in such scenarios.