ECDIS | UK Hydrographic Office does not withhold electronic charts

Mike Robinson, Chief executive UK Hydrographic Office  | first published in Lloyd’s List (2010/09/21)

SENSATIONAL headlines are designed to catch the eye of the reader and the headline ‘UKHO charts a collision course with shipowners’ (Lloyd’s List September 15, 2010) certainly caught mine. But as was the case in the classic Sun newspaper headline of 1986, the truth is often very different and much less sensational.

The gist of Ryan Skinner’s article is that the UKHO is withholding hundreds of Electronic Navigational Charts by making bi-lateral arrangements with countries, rather than distributing them via the Regional ENC Co-ordination Centres. This is simply untrue and the writer of the article is unfortunately misinformed.

The two RENCs — IC-ENC and PRIMAR — are fundamental to chart quality and distribution. But the reality is that there are many countries which have, for various reasons, elected not to make their data available through a RENC but prefer to work directly with Value Added Resellers or distributors.

This is a sovereign right, invoked by countries including the US, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan and not subject to the influence of any hydrographic office. To provide a global ENC service, it is therefore vital for any VAR or distributor to have agreements with the two RENCs and with those individual countries which do not distribute through a RENC.

Over the last few years both PRIMAR and the UKHO have signed numerous bi-lateral agreements to ensure they can provide as comprehensive a global service as possible. But it is not just governments acting as VARs that can provide global ENC services working with the RENCs and via bi-lateral arrangements, private companies can too.

The article states that the UKHO (and by inference PRIMAR) use their ‘government muscle’ in forming such bi-lateral agreements. This is simply untrue. Hydrographic offices (including UKHO) have provided assistance to third countries to produce ENCs. In such cases, where the country asks for distribution through a RENC, this is always facilitated.

The article also attempts to mislead the reader into thinking that the UKHO has conflicting aims as a ‘government regulator’ and a ‘market player’, an assertion that demonstrates a lack of understanding of the principles of chart distribution and the UKHO’s role. The UKHO does not have a regulatory role and, as is clear from the above, is one of a number of channels for distributing ENCs.

So this is the position: the UKHO is not withholding ENCs and is not on a collision course with shipowners. Not only does the UKHO make ENCs available though its own products, it offers its quality assured datasets to other VARs.

I accept that the RENC system is not perfect — they operate different models, different licensing regimes, and have different conditions for the use of data they supply. This makes it difficult to provide a truly global service and discourages new members from joining.

The IHO has proposed that the two RENCs should increase their co-operation, a move the UK and Norway wholeheartedly support. To achieve this, all RENC members will have to compromise — never easy but essential if the hydrographic community is to put more ENCs in the hands of mariners.

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