New shipping tracker sees ‘ghost ships’ in latest IT bungle
New shipping tracker sees ‘ghost ships’ in latest IT bungle

Ghost ships ahoy in $36m IT bungle

A traffic control system for the Great Barrier Reef has been tracking ghost ships that don't exist and losing ships that do under the State Labor Government's latest troubled IT project.

The vessel traffic services project is set to replace antiquated software and use the latest technology to track ships across the reef and Torres Strait, ensuring they do not collide with one another, or the protected reef below.

But it has been plagued with quirks - at one point 274 faults had been raised - including the strange "ghosting" phenomenon when a ship that doesn't exist is displayed travelling alongside, away from or on a collision course with a real ship, triggering an alert.

Ghost ship the Black Pearl from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie
Ghost ship the Black Pearl from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie

Other faults have included radars not connecting to the system, an inability to identify vessels, missing vessels and inconsistent dimensions being displayed, according to documents see by The Courier-Mail.

Having already been significantly delayed, authorities are now blaming COVID-19 restrictions for the latest setback.

But they say the $36.2 million budget remains unchanged, after having already been more than doubled from the project's original $15.2 million price tag when it was first announced in April 2014.

Maritime Safety Queensland general manager Angus Mitchell said phase one of VTS had been successfully implemented for Queensland ports in December 2019, but the second phase for the reef and Torres Strait was still in testing.

Despite recently having been due to be rolled out on in September 2019, the reef project has since been pushed back at least twice to August and now October.

Maritime Safety Queensland's Angus Mitchell
Maritime Safety Queensland's Angus Mitchell

Mr Mitchell said experts from The Netherlands hadn't been able to fly in to assist because of COVID-19 restrictions, which was delaying the "configuration, testing and fine tuning stage".

He did not respond to questions on whether identified issues, like ghosting, had been fixed yet.

"This finetuning was to have been supported by specialists from SAAB based in the Netherlands," he said.

"They were due to arrive in Australia in April 2020 but this was cancelled due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

"Having the specialist working remotely from the Netherlands has increased the time to configure, test and finetune the Reef VTS system to meet our specific requirements."

He said safety was paramount, and while testing was taking longer than planned, "it must be rigorous and will not be rushed".

"Because Reef VTS is unique, there is no ready-made, off-the-shelf solution and we are taking great care to ensure we have complete confidence in the new system's reliability," he said.

Originally published as Ghost ships ahoy in $36m IT bungle