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Digital Lighthouses Guide Vessels Away from Chanchu
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China's new digital lighthouse system passed its first major test with tropical storm Chanchu last week and guided vessels in Chinese waters to safety.

Chanchu, the first tropical storm of the year in the South China Sea, sank at least 10 vessels off Vietnam and left dozens of seamen dead or missing.

No casualties were reported in Chinese waters primarily due to the automatic identification system (AIS) adopted by China's Maritime Safety Administration (MSA), Liu Gongchen, MSA executive director-general, said Monday.

He told the ongoing 16th Conference of the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities (IALA) that the AIS had given advance warning to vessels in the path of Chanchu.

Using digital communication technology the AIS records and reports information on vessels, including speed and course and receives other maritime information from onshore control stations and vessels linked to the AIS network.

During the three days Chanchu swept Chinese seas local maritime safety administrations in south China's Guangdong Province and the eastern Shanghai Municipality sent wind speeds and directions through the AIS to both Chinese and foreign vessels in Chinese waters at risks posed by Typhoon Chanchu. They gave direct instructions to those in the most danger. 

Mo Qi, deputy director of the Guangdong Maritime Safety Administration, said all vessels in the path of Chanchu had got through it. 

China launched the concept of digital lighthouses through the IALA in 2003 and encouraged technological research within the association. All members agreed with the concept at the ongoing conference, said Liu.

Since the end of 2004 the MSA has established and connected to the network 50 onshore AIS stations covering all important ports and sea lanes, said Han Wei, an MSA official.

Han said the MSA plans to construct 25 more stations to cover all coastal waters and the lower Yangtze River by the beginning of next year.

Held for the first time in China the conference of the IALA runs from May 22 to 27 with more than 500 representatives from nearly 50 countries and regions discussing "lighthouses in the digital world."

(Xinhua News Agency May 23, 2006)

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