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The Strait of Messina: Cruisers Report

By SY Half Moon — last modified Jan 02, 2018 10:53 AM

Published: 2014-12-10 11:00:00
Countries: Italy

Messina Straits, Italy - October 2014
Reported by SY DeDanann

We set sail from Milazzo Sicily transiting south through the straits in reasonable weather. We called up VTS radio to advise of our entry on approach, but received no reply. We had a pleasant voyage as far as the south end of the TSS.

We were sailing along on passage to Roccella Ionica on the south coast of Italy, it was 21.00, the night was dark and visibility poor. We were north of Capo Spartivento when we heard the sound of powerful engines coming from behind. We could see no lights. As this vessel closed on us within a few meters we were becoming very concerned, then all of a sudden we were lit up by a powerful search light. We were studied for about ten minutes, no radio contact, no requests to board us, then the light went out and the vessel took off at high speed into the dark with no navigation lights on. We assumed it was the guardia costiera?

We arrived at the port of Ionica at 03.30 and grounded on the bar at the entrance to the port, we draw 2.2M. We rocked DeDanann off the bar and dropped the hook in 5M of water outside the port. Then, as before, we heard powerful engines coming from seaward, no lights showing, and again we were lit up and studied by the guardia costiera. They then took off into the dark as before.

Whilst it is re-assuring to know this coast is being patrolled, it is un-nerving when they come up on you out of nowhere.

The Strait of Messina: Call in regardless of what the regulations say
1 September 2013.

We met Tom and Bev from Minnesota in Gaita, Italy. They relayed to us the unpleasant experience they had of being stopped in the Messina Straits and being given an 1,800 Euro ticket for failing to check in with the VTS control before entering the straits (see prior Noonsite post below).

Being forewarned, I accessed the Costa Guardia website and did find that per the written regulations, no contact seemed to be required for a normal sized sailing yacht.  However, when we passed through earlier this morning, we found that the practice differs from the writings on the Guardia website.  About an hour out and thinking that I was probably being foolish on a 16.7 meter vessel, I called VTS (+39 090 41711 was the number that I called, others listed are +39 090 41923 and +39 090 41989 but are untested by me).  To my surprise, the person answering not only took me seriously, he went through a list of detailed questions about our vessel and our last port of call, ending the call by instructing me to call in again when we reached the straits on channel 10.  We did so and, after being given very specific instructions, we were monitored all the way to Marina Natunno where VTS noted that he wanted me to call in and then monitored the call to the harbor to be sure that I was exiting the traffic control system at that point.

Traffic within the straits is quite heavy (especially the ferry boats) and the VTS functions as a form of air traffic control, to prevent collisions.  We noticed at least two patrol boats in the straits while we were passing through.  Bottom line seems to be to call in regardless of what the regs say.

As a side note, the Costa Guardia station at Messina bent over backwards to help me out and provided documentation checking me out of Italy for presentation when we reach Greece later this week (no charge). As a non EU vessel, I felt that having the magic government stamp on a document might come in very handy once we sail 250 miles to Greece (hard to turn around and run back to get it if it turns out we need it).  We had a very positive experience with these folks.

Scott Sullan
S/V Robin

The Strait of Messina: Incident with the Coast Guard
Report into the VTS before transiting the straits to avoid possible fines.

On May 4, 2013, we transited the Messina Strait, Italy, northbound.

Conditions were favorable, light winds and little current.  We entered the Strait along the SW side and crossed the VTS to just South of the Catona along the Eastside and were proceeding North.  There was light commercial traffic and we presented NO traffic issues while crossing the traffic lanes.  A second yacht was also transiting North bound and they were along the East side just ahead of us. They were coming in from the East and were unknown to us and we never spoke directly with them.

Just south of Giovanni, an Italian Coast Guard patrol boat approached the first yacht and requested that they drop all sails and hold station. The CG then came to us and told us to drops sails and stop engine. From the action onboard the patrol boat they were preparing to raft up with us.  At the time it was a moderately choppy sea and I indicated that I would not allow their rafting.  Their high black rub rail was about mid-lifeline height!  They did not raft up.

The CG boat then came close and informed us that we had NOT reported in to Messina VTS. They requested our Ships papers, Passports and the Constito (Italian cruising permit). After approximately 40 minutes the CG returned with our Paperwork and an Infraction Document.  The fine was 2064 euro!  The infraction was for NOT reporting into VTS prior to entering the VTS zone.  Fortunately the fine was only to be paid if we departed Italy and re-entered at a later date.

After releasing us, the CG proceeded to the 2nd yacht and started to raft to them.  About mid-way through the process of rafting up the CG boat backed off and departed the area. The 2nd yacht looked over at us with a  “what was that all about?” look. They had to wait around for about 45 minutes.  The CG boat never returned.

We have spoken to a number of other yachts that have transited previously and only a very few have ever contacted VTS. I had thought that our crossing of the VTS may have raised the flag??  The second yacht did not cross over the VTS but they were also stopped but not fined???

So, if anyone is planning to Transit the Messina Strait, I would recommend that they call Messina Strait Harbor Control @ ch 16 or VTS @ ch 10, prior to entering the Strait.

Tom Walton & Bev Newberry
S/Y HALFMOON
USA reg.

(Editor's Note: The Strait of Messina is the narrow passage between the eastern tip of Sicily and the southern tip of Calabria in the south of Italy. It connects the Tyrrhenian Sea with the Ionian Sea, within the central Mediterranean. At its narrowest point, it measures 3.1 km (1.9 mi) in width. According to the Italian Coastguard website, yachts under 45m are not requried to report in advance their planned transit of the Messina strait. See http://www.guardiacostiera.it/servizi/documents/manualivts/manualeutenteMessina.pdf for more details.)

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rkurschner
rkurschner says:
Dec 17, 2017 04:10 PM

We passed through the Strait of Messina in early November 2017, N to S on our 46ft sailboat. We called the VTS before entering the area just to make sure that we did not have to report. They confirmed that for our size of the boat we did not have to report, however, they did ask a few questions about our destination and crew. We also asked if we can only cross at the designated roundabout and they said that is not necessary and we can cross at any point it is safe. They cautioned us about the ferries noting that the ferries often don't follow the traffic separation rules. They spoke excellent English and were very professional and helpful. Upon our exit from the Strait they hailed us on VHS and confirmed our intended destination.
s/v Blue Moon V, Vancouver

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