Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait Vessel Traffic Service
The Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait Vessel Traffic Service (REEFVTS) monitors vessel traffic in the region to prevent collisions or incidents. The area has high environmental significance and is protected by a range of national and international measures.
Navigating a vessel through this region is challenging because the area:
- is large and takes a long time to navigate
- has confined waters with limited depths of water
- has strong and variable tidal streams
- is in a monsoon climate with low-visibility during rain squalls
- can have tropical storms and cyclones
- has narrow fairways
- is used by a range of vessel types that have many different flag states and different types of cargo.
REEFVTS is a coastal vessel traffic service (VTS) dedicated to the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait region. Townsville has a dedicated 24-hour VTS centre for REEFVTS.
- improves navigational safety in the Torres Strait and inner route of the Great Barrier Reef by giving information to vessels about
- potential traffic conflicts
- navigational information
- lowers the risk of maritime incidents in the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait region that may result in
- ship-sourced pollution
- damage to the marine environment
- responds quickly if there are any safety or pollution incidents in the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait region.
About REEFVTS video
Jason Rebello, Vessel Traffic Service Operator: Please confirm your exit point will be Sandy Cape. Over.
Voiceover: This is the Reef Vessel Traffic Service, or ReefVTS. It's mission is to monitor and promote the safe movement of large ships through this natural wonder, the Great Barrier Reef.
Jason Rebello: Information received sir, thank you.
Tony Melrose, Manager Vessel Traffic Services: We monitor an area about 2,300 kilometres, from Bundaberg all the way up to the Torres Strait.
Voiceover: Based in Townsville, ReefVTS is a join venture betwewen the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, and Maritime Safety Queensland. It watches over the largest stretch of monitored ocean in the world, a vital trade route worth more than 30 billion dollars a year.
Tony Melrose: The number of ships we monitor varies, from anywhere between 40 and 70 active voyages in the reef at any one time, along that 2,300 kilometre stretch.
Voiceover: ReefVTS is also arguably the world's most environmentally critical maritime traffic operation.
Tony Melrose: We are critically aware of the important of monitoring our ships to ensure the safety of the environment, and the ships.
Jason Rebello: It is very challenging, and it is quite rewarding at the end of it. We feel proud to be part of ReefVTS.
Voiceover: There's been just one shipgrounding since ReefVTS was established in 2004.
Tony Melrose: Mishaps are very rare, and this centre is critical to preventing mishaps. We use all sorts of sensors that are out in the field, and satellites to monitor the ships.
Jason Rebello: Usually we have a couple of sensors on every vessel. So that tells us at any point of time where the vessel is. And it makes it easier for us to monitor and track throughout the reef.
Tony Melrose: This large screen here represents roughly half the geographical area that we keep observation of. As you can see all these ships here, dark green, means they have pilots on board.
Worker: Thank you sir we'll send traffic information shortly via InMasts at sea.
Tony Melrose: This pristine environment of the Great Barrier Reef is not just for Australia, it's for the entire world.
Worker (voiceover): Have a safe watch and we'll speak to your reef pilot when he's on the bridge, over.
REEFVTS vessel master requirements
Vessel masters need to work with the REEFVTS officers to ensure safe operation of vessels in the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait region. Masters are expected to make the best use of REEFVTS information and services when making navigational decisions.
Vessels operating in the REEFVTS area should acknowledge information from REEFVTS when asked and must respond quickly to enquiries.
Masters are expected to:
- adhere to REEFVTS reporting requirements
- respond to all warnings and advice from REEFVTS
- contact REEFVTS if they identify a hazardous situation that may impact on the navigational safety of others.
The master of a vessel is always responsible for the way the vessel is operated and manoeuvred, and its safe navigation under all circumstances.
Functions of REEFVTS
REEFVTS monitors and communicates with vessels for safer navigation throughout the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait.
This is done by maintaining a vessel traffic image of vessels moving through the area. A vessel traffic image, or integrated surface picture, is a visual representation of the position and movement of vessels on a geographic information system.
REEFVTS provides vessel masters and pilots:
REEFVTS provides these functions to vessels in the region using:
To communicate with REEFVTS, you need to use English and the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO’s) Standard Marine Communication Phrases through either:
- Inmarsat C satellite system, which allows 2-way, text-based communication between a vessel and REEFVTS
- VHF radio, which allows voice communication between vessels and the shore within the REEFVTS region.
Depending on a vessel’s position, you can contact REEFVTS on VHF channels 11 or 14 (radio call sign REEFVTS) 24 hours a day. To know what channel to use refer to the REEFVTS User Guide VHF Channel overview map.
If you can't communicate with REEFVTS using Inmarsat C or VHF radio, you must communicate by:
Mandatory vessel reporting system
The Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait Ship Reporting System (REEFREP) is a key part of REEFVTS. It requires all vessels—including those on overseas, interstate or intrastate voyages—to identify themselves and what their intended passage is through the region. The vessel can then be tracked as it moves through the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait.
Vessels must provide the following reports:
- Pre-Entry Report
- Final Report
When applicable, vessels must also provide these reports:
- Intermediate Position Reports
- Route Deviation Report
- Defect Report
Marine Order 63 and the REEFVTS User Guide detail the reporting requirements.
Vessels that must report
The following vessel types must report to REEFVTS:
- vessels 50m or more in overall length
- oil tankers, liquefied gas carriers or chemical tankers
- vessels involved in towing or pushing 1 of these vessels
- vessels involved in a towing or pushing operation when the overall length of the tow is more than 150m (measured from the stern of the towing vessel to the after end of the tow).
Other vessels moving through the REEFVTS area may voluntarily report. The following vessels are encouraged, but not required, to report to REEFVTS:
- naval auxiliary vessels
- government owned or operated vessels.
Failure to report
Any vessel master, or officer of the watch (while in the REEFVTS area) is committing an offence if they:
- fail to follow the reporting requirements
- wilfully transmit information that is incorrect, false or misleading.
If you fail to report you may be fined and convicted by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority under the Commonwealth Navigation Act 2012.