GAO report urges AIS agreement

GAO report urges AIS agreement

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Coast Guard must conclude negotiations with a private marine telecommunications company before automatic vessel identification can become used widely as a port security tool, according to a new Government Accountability Office report.

GAO, the congressional auditing agency formerly known as the General Accounting Office, said that the Coast Guard and Federal Communications Commission must settle a dispute with MariTel, Inc., of Alpharetta, Ga.

AIS is one of the features in the Maritime Transportation Security Act. The system would automatically track ships in U.S. waters, and alert authorities if terrorists take control of one. The GAO noted that the Coast Guard quickly implemented the system in areas controlled by Vessel Traffic Services.

Wider use of AIS requires an agreement with MariTel. The company owns the rights to radio frequencies that the Coast Guard wants to use in an international AIS system. MariTel says using them for vessel identification would impinge on their use for commercial radio traffic.

MariTel recently proposed to the Coast Guard and FCC a proposal that would allow government-private frequency-sharing.

The GAO also noted that the Coast Guard faces some other key AIS decisions, including technical requirements, waterway coverage, and which vessels would be required to use AIS.