March 9 - Effective March 1, Antwerp Port Authority has started the pilot phase of its Inland Automatic Identification System (AIS) for barges in the port area.

Use of AIS by barges will not become mandatory until January 1, 2012, but the port authority says that the pilot phase will make it possible for the industry to prepare for the full-scale introduction and to "fine-tune" the system.

AIS is part of the port's Barge Master Plan and automatically transmits information on the name, position, speed and direction of travel of the barge. Its implementation is aimed at enhancing safety within the port and permitting efficient vessel traffic management.

It will also help the port to manage berths more efficiently and optimise lock operations. A statement says that in the longer term it will be possible to monitor and direct traffic flows proactively from a barge coordination centre.

Belgium's Flemish government is promoting the system by granting subsidies for purchase and installation of the AIS equipment.