ABU DHABI // Boat owners will be fined if they do not fit electronic trackers used to help coastguards find them in an emergency, security officials said yesterday. Owners of fishing boats, sailing boats and commercial vessels that weigh less than 300 tons have until Sept 15 to fit the devices, called e-passports.
The announcement came during the launch of a three-month maritime safety campaign, which includes a new phone hotline for reporting nautical emergencies. The e-passport would enable coastguards to track boats at sea, which helped in the event of accidents, drownings or if boats went missing, said Staff Brig Eng Muhair Ali al Khateri, director general of the Critical National Infrastructure Authority (CNIA), during the launch of the "Bihar" campaign.
"To help the rescue teams determine with precision the location of various types of boats in case of emergency, the CNIA has brought in the e-passport device. "This new tool will be placed on all fishing and sail boats licensed in the UAE as well as commercial boats that weigh less than 300 tons," said Brig Eng al Khateri. Officials can track the device across UAE waters. The Northern Emirates, including Dubai, have already added e-passports to boats. Abu Dhabi started last month, and owners have already added the device to 2,500 out of the 20,000 such boats in the emirate.
Brig Eng al Khateri said the fine for failing to fit an e-passport had yet to be specified. Advertisements have been placed in the media announcing the new regulation. "This procedure is for people's safety, and we will make sure that everybody installs it," said Col Ishaq al Besher, executive manager of the operations sector at CNIA. E-passports can be acquired for Dh7,000 (US$1,900) through Abu Dhabi Coast Guard, which can also provide a maintenance service.
If an owner stops using his or her boat, the device can be returned for a full refund. The new marine emergency helpline number is 996. "996 is dedicated to reporting sea-based incidents within the marine waters of Abu Dhabi," said Brig Eng al Khateri. "People dialling this number will be connected to a highly trained CNIA team who will take appropriate action to alert the necessary rescue services.
"We recommend that all boat owners contact the number 996 before sailing, and to inform their families about their location. The number has all the details about weather and sea conditions, necessary precautions and guidelines." While welcoming the scheme in principle, several boat owners were concerned that the gadgets had been known to drain batteries, which could cause more problems for coastguards.
Khalil al Arar, a boat manager at the Wagih Mansour Marine Club, formerly the Abu Dhabi Marina, welcomed the e-passports but said the tracker system caused problems for boats because they quickly exhausted the battery. "I have seen these trackers fitted, and I think they are a good idea but they do not work well with the boats," he said. "The batteries run down much more quickly. I know people are trying to find a solution but I don't think they know how to get around this yet.
"The trackers are a good idea because it will allow emergency crews to get to people in trouble quicker." Lukas Lukincic, who owns a 50ft dhow berthed in Abu Dhabi, said he was worried to hear that the trackers could drain batteries. "It is a bit concerning" he said. "If I go away for a few days to an island somewhere and I am not using the generator, I don't want my battery to go flat. "I don't mind a voluntary system but I don't want to be forced into spending all that money, even if I am going to get it back eventually. I already have a radio with an emergency channel which I can use if I have any problems. Why do I need another piece of hardware?"
Marcus Kirchner, owner of a Van der Staadt yacht in Abu Dhabi, said if the trackers drained batteries the system could backfire on the coastguard authorities. He said: "The whole point of these trackers is to help emergency teams and the coastguard. "But if they just run down batteries, then they are going to cause more problems for the coastguard because they will end up going out to rescue boats whose batteries have died.
"Boat owners here are fed up with having to pay more and more money to keep up with all the regulations. The costs just keep mounting." Under the slogan "Be safe", the Bihar campaign aims to enhance public awareness on maritime regulations and violations, prohibited areas for swimming and fishing and the reasons why they are prohibited, and types and size of marine species. As well as ensuring the safety of beach-users, swimmers, sailors and jet skiers, the campaign aims to educate people about the marine environment and ensure the protection of endangered species.
"There is also certain fishing equipment that is not allowed because it is not environmentally friendly. We also take into account waste disposal in the sea," said Brig Eng al Khateri. Fishing rules have already been made known to the fishing community and will be included in the campaign brochures, as will details of the penalties for breaking the rules. The campaign will include activities in the capital's shopping malls aimed at educating both residents and visitors about the law.
Friendly visits will be paid to fishing communities to familiarise them with the CNIA. The brigadier engineer highlighted the main security measures taken by the authority, which include 24- hour patrols along the coast. "Operation rooms receive emergency calls almost daily," he said. "Accidents occur often and increase during summer; that is why we chose to launch the campaign now." There were eight drowning accidents last year, while there had been none so far this year, he said. "When accidents occur, investigations are conducted into the cause of the accident.
"If it was proven that the person is at fault, he will face penalties as per the law, and be referred to Public Prosecution." Marine police had been combined with the CNIA since the beginning of the year, he said. firstname.lastname@example.org * With additional reporting by Meera al Sayegh & Charlie Hamilton