In addition to legislating the requirement for voyage data recorders (VDrs) on certain ships, the Government of Canada has recently published the Long-Range Identification and Tracking of Vessels Regulations, which, like the VDr regulations, are designed to increase marine safety and the enhance the protection of Canada’s marine environment. The regulations, now in force, require certain Canadian vessels to be fitted with long-range identification and tracking (LrIT) equipment.

LRIT equipment installed on a vessel automatically transmits information as to the vessel’s identity, position (particularly its latitude and longitude) and the date and time of the transmission. LRIT differs from the Automated Identification System (AIS) used to provide coastal authorities with vessel information. AIS is a broadcast system that cannot assure the confidentiality of the information transmitted and has a maximum range of only about 20 nautical miles. By comparison, LRIT, a satellite-based system, can transmit information for up to 1000 nautical miles. It offers a global range and enhances confidentiality of the information transmitted, which is available only to intended recipients.

In May 2006, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), through its Maritime Safety Committee, adopted an amendment to Chapter V (Safety of Navigation) of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974 (SOLAS). The amendment established new obligations for SOLAS Contracting Governments in respect of passenger vessels and cargo ships of 300 gross tons or more engaged on international voyages, as well as mobile offshore drilling units, with respect to Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT). The IMO came into force internationally as of January 1, 2008, with the transmission of LRIT information becoming effective as of December 31, 2008.

As a Contracting State of SOLAS, Canada undertook to introduce LRIT requirements into its domestic legislation at the first opportunity, and this has now been done through the new LRIT Regulations, adopted under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, para. 35(1)(d). The Regulations require Canadian vessels everywhere to be fitted with LRIT equipment if they are engaged on “international voyages” and are cargo vessels of 300 gross tons or more or passenger vessel that carry more than 12 passengers. The LRIT equipment fitted on such vessels must comply with certain standards.

By requiring LRIT equipment on Canadian vessels, Canada complies with its international obligations as a SOLAS Convention country. Canada can now enforce the same requirement on foreign cargo and passenger vessels of the regulated types and tonnage when engaged on international voyages. Should such ships fail to transmit LRIT data within the 1,000 nautical mile limit, they could be treated as vessels of interest. Time would permit their further tracking and investigation, and they could be stopped before entering Canadian waters, well away from Canadian ports or infrastructure. The introduction of LRIT is seen as a valuable aid to Canada’s trade with Asia, in lessening the risk of terrorist attacks. The cost of the necessary equipment is estimated to be minimal, as most Canadian vessels already have LRIT-compatible equipment on board.