Coast Guard Pursues Civil Penalty for Columbia River AIS Violation

Image: U.S. Coast Guard Sector Columbia River.

The Coast Guard in late January stated that it’s pursuing a civil penalty with a maximum punishment of $41,000 against a commercial fishing vessel for violating Automated Identification System (AIS) regulations near the mouth of the Columbia River.

AIS is a maritime navigation safety communications system adopted by the international community to help save lives and facilitate safe transit of navigable waterways. It automatically transmits vessel information to shore stations, other ships and aircraft.

That includes vessel identity, type, position, course, speed, navigational status and safety-related information.

Coast Guard Sector Columbia River has said that on Dec. 3, 2022, a commercial fishing vessel deactivated its AIS while underway near the mouth of the Columbia River in violation of 33 Code of Federal Regulations 164.46(d)(2).

The vessel’s 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.

Since the investigation is still active, the Coast Guard has declined to release the name of the suspected violating vessel.

“AIS helps keep mariners safe and our ports secure,” Lt. Cmdr. Colin Fogarty, the Enforcement Chief for Sector Columbia River, said. “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,” he continued. “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.

“When we detect a vessel not following AIS requirements, we will pursue enforcement action,” Fogarty said. “$5,000 is a significant fine to pay for a secret crabbing spot, but it’s still cheaper than the safety of the crew.”