Bahrain-headquartered Middle East Navigational Aids Services (MENAS), which has been providing Aids to Navigation in the Gulf for over 100 years, is battling to prevent a serious setback to maritime safety in the region. The not-for-profit organisation is warning shipowners that they must pay the dues levied by MENAS to cover the capital and operational costs of its network of 54 aids to navigation, including four DGPS stations, in the Gulf, or face the possibility of a degraded service in years to come.
MENAS CEO Peter Stanley, says, “Over the past 18 months we have seen a sharp decline in the dues collected by our agents in the Gulf, largely because of the misapprehension that these dues are a charitable donation. They are not. They are a payment for the extensive Aids to Navigation services we provide to vessels calling at Middle East ports and are a vitally important source of revenue if we are to maintain and upgrade our network.”
Currently owners of vessels of above 15,000 net tons are levied MENAS dues at the first port of call in the Gulf, up to a maximum of US$ 660 a vessel of 40,000 tons and above. These fees have remained the same since 2006, MENAS points out, and are valid for 60 days, thereby covering multiple port calls.
Stanley adds, “The assets we operate require regular maintenance and some are over 20 years old and in need of replacement. Our four DGPS stations, in the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait, for which there is no accurate or secure GPS alternative in the Gulf, cost around $1 million each to replace, so we do need to receive contributions from owners, or the technology we deploy will become progressively outdated and we will not be able to maintain the quality and reliability of the service we can offer.”
It is ironic, Stanley suggests, that shipowners regularly state that safety is their top priority, when they are seemingly reluctant to pay for this vital aids to navigation service in the Gulf’s international waters. He adds, “We currently fill the gaps outside of individual states’ territorial water responsibilities, but if owners continue to decline to pay our dues then some hard choices will have to be made in future. MENAS faces growing challenges and we don’t want the top-quality safety service we provide to degrade. If we are not able to continue as we are now, it would raise big concerns for the safety of shipping in the busy, congested waters of the Gulf.”
Operating from its main base in Bahrain and a support base in Abu Dhabi, MENAS owns and maintains an extensive network of buoys, lighthouses, racons, AIS and DGPS transmitters. It also provides essential information and advice, such as the issuance of Notices to Mariners, advising on hazards to shipping and additions to navigation charts for the Gulf and is responsible for sending Navigation Warning NAVTEX with range of 300 nautical miles that covers the entire Gulf. It is estimated that over 2,000 vessels rely upon MENAS equipment and services each month.
MENAS is the Gulf operations division of the London-based International Foundation for Aids to Navigation (IFAN) and is the only independent Aids to Navigation authority in the world, with no country affiliation or national sponsor. It operates an ISO 9001:2015 quality-assured service, certified by Lloyd’s Register Quality Assurance and is an associate member of International Association of Lighthouse Authorities (IALA).