Maritime watch stati­ons

IRCA is responsible for the operation of the maritime watch stations and manages the financial and professional monitoring of the watch stations and its projects. IRCA operates various safety and monitoring services for vessels and sea transport.

IRCA has financial and professional control over the operation of the maritime watch stations, and manages communication with the authorities regarding its projects. The Icelandic Transport Authority handles international collaboration, such as with the International Maritime Organization (IMO,) and the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA.) The Icelandic Coast Guard, ICE-SAR, and the Emergency hotline operate the maritime watch stations according to a service agreement thereto. The Icelandic Coast Guard is responsible for the professional leadership of the watch stations and manages its daily operations.

The objective of the service agreement is to ensure the safety of mariners, as much as possible and that all relevant parties with the most experience and knowledge of surveillance, search and rescue, join forces in operating the maritime watch stationss, for the benefit of seafarers.

The watch stations’ projects

The role of the watch stations is defined in legislation thereto and in the Directive 2002/59/EC. In fact, the main role of the watch stations is five-fold:

  • to monitor all traffic at sea within Icelandic jurisdiction and to identify and register all vessels
  • to communicate with vessels within the jurisdiction, if need be
  • to share information with vessels regarding environmental issues and manage sailing notifications
  • to respond and take action if circumstances so require
  • maritime rescue coordination (MRCC.)
Hríseyjarferjan Sævar

Hríseyjarferjan Sævar

Vessels in Icelandic waters

The maritime watch stations already monitor all fishing vessels within the jurisdiction through an automatic identification system (AIS) and related systems. Through the AIS you can track all freighters along the Icelandic coast.

According to plans of the EU, an electronic notification system for marine traffic between member states, as well as Norway and Iceland, has been implemented. This system is called Safe SeaNet (SNN.) Safe SeaNet collects and disseminates information regarding the movements of ships, transport of dangerous materials, movement history, mishap register, and more.

Telecommunications services

It is important to have good telecommunications within the jurisdiction. Sufficient telecommunications services need to be provided with information regarding sailing and sailing routes, along with general safety services. This includes the watch stations serving as an intermediary between vessels and services for ships in relation to emergency ports.

Information about the environment

An important part of the maritime watch stations’ operation is the monitoring and use of information systems regarding environmental factors such as weather, wave height, tidal currents, etc.  Real-time measurements of these factors along with the relevant forecasts, will over time become powerful tools that watch stations managers use to solve problems that arise regarding sailing and fishing, and when pollution incidents occur within the jurisdiction. Information systems on environmental factors need to be further developed and IRCA has recently carried out work in this respect.

Right to intervention

Situations can arise regarding movements of ships within the jurisdiction where the maritime watch stations has to intervene. The EU Directive 2002/59/EC, calls for a Maritime Assistance Service (MAS,) that can refer to everything from guidelines for captains, to sending a group of professionals on board a ship in distress, in order to evaluate the situation.

In addition, the Act on marine and coastal antipollution measures, stipulates the right to intervention, which provides the possibility to intervene if an accident leading to pollution, is imminent. The distinction between MAS and direct rescue services, may be unclear, however detailed work procedures regarding MAS need to be set, i.e. where the role of the watch stations and the responsibility of the captain, are clearly defined.

Provisions on emergency ports and places of refuge, and the role of the watch stations in that respect, also relate to this. This factor also calls for definitions and rules of procedure. The right to intervention is perhaps the most sensitive field of operation, with regards to where the responsibility lies. According to changes that were made to the Harbour Act, the Icelandic Transport Authority appoints places of refuge here in Iceland.

Organisation of rescue issues

With the advent of the maritime watch stations and the involvement of representatives of rescue parties there is a better opportunity than before to coordinate all rescue measures and better utilise the equipment that is already available. A better foundation for rescue and sailing services is achieved by including rescuers in the watch stations.