'E-passports' for yacht safety - is Emirates leading the world?

9:34 PM Tue 23 Jun 2009 GMT
'Sailing off Abu Dhabi - does he have an E-passport? photo by Rich-Joseph Facun' .
Abu Dhabi's new and revolutionary boating regulations that require all yachts to carry an E-passport has run into trouble with local yacht-owners because of the battery-power the new system uses.

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 will enable coastguards to track boats at sea, which helps 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.

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.

"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 cost Dh7,000 (US$1,900) through Abu Dhabi Coast Guard.

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.'

by Haneen Dajani, The National/Sail-World Cruising

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