Iridium’s Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) brings voice communications between distressed ships and emergency responders for the first time
The US-headquartered satellite owner has developed an IMO-approved GMDSS services for mariners in distress to alert search and rescue (SAR) organisations. They are then able to communicate with one another to improve their chances of rescue and recovery.
These services were presented during Riviera Maritime Media-hosted Iridium GMDSS: giving safety a voice webinar.
This event, supported by premium partner Iridium, was held on 3 June 2021 as part of Riviera’s Maritime Communications Webinar Series.
During this webinar, Iridium vice president and general manager for maritime Wouter Deknopper and Iridium director of maritime safety and security services Kyle Hurst presented the company’s GMDSS services. They were joined on the panel by Lars Thrane sales manager Thomas Flinth, who outlined the functionality of its GMDSS terminal.
Attendees heard how Iridium GMDSS enhances safety at sea by offering more capabilities to communicate with SAR organisations, emergency response and salvage companies, with global coverage and cost-effective packages for vessels of all sizes.
Mr Deknopper provided an overview of Iridium’s next-generation, low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation and its worldwide L-band communications coverage. Iridium has 66 LEO satellites in six orbital planes, with 11 satellites each. Plus there are nine in-orbit spares and six ground spares.
“Our satellites enable reliable communications anywhere in the world including the poles and allows for power-efficient, small form-factor terminals and antennas,” said Mr Deknopper. “Our GMDSS brings choice when for decades there was no choice, and we bring innovation to maritime safety communications.”
Mr Hurst expanded on these capabilities and innovations in his presentation. “We have improved capabilities of GMDSS that will make significant changes to safety,” he said.
“We have voice and data in one terminal,” said Mr Hurst. “This provides efficient and comprehensive gathering of information by the response co-ordination centre (RCC) to enable faster SAR response.”
A distress message is sent from the troubled vessel over the LEO satellite network to an RCC, which automatically sends a reply message when the alert is received. The RCC will then be able to call the ship in trouble to speak with its crew.
“Within 30 seconds, the seafarer that sent the distress alert can be speaking with the RCC, and key information can be passed on to SAR responders in an emergency,” said Mr Hurst. “It gets key information to the right people at the right time.”
The initial distress alert includes critical data including vessel identification, status and position to the RCC from one touch of a button on the GMDSS terminal.
The device also provides crew with important maritime safety information (MSI), including navigational and meteorological data over Iridium SafetyCast.
Another function is distress alert relay, enabling RCCs to send out broadcasts to ships in the vicinity of the distressed ship to request aid.
“The RCC can send out a broadcast, see which vessels are around and call them directly,” explained Mr Hurst. There is also ship-to-ship distress calling, short-code dialling and medical assistance communications through Iridium GMDSS.
Lars Thrane is the first to offer Iridium GMDSS through its LT-3100S terminal. “Our dedicated device includes distress alert, safety voice, MSI, priority messaging to the RCC and bridge alert management,” said Mr Flinth.
LT-3100S includes a control unit, antenna and a handset. It has a 11-cm display on the control unit and up to 500 m of cable between the antenna and main unit on the bridge. There is a navigational interface, alarm panel and an LT-3160S printer adapter, which is one of the accessories. Others include an LT-3140S interface unit, LT-3150S alarm panel and test buttons.
“There are also non-GMDSS functionalities including email, messaging, voice services and 2.4 kbps for data,” said Mr Flinth. LT-3100S has built-in GPS for positioning and tracking, an analogue telephone adaptor and extra phone lines, ship security alert system (SSAS) and long-range identification and tracking (LRIT).
This terminal can interface with a GMDSS printer, other alarm panels, other bridge alert management units, ECDIS and SSAS buttons.
“Our terminal, along with Iridium GMDSS, enables crew in distress to talk with SAR people in an emergency,” said Mr Flinth.
This function was considered important to attendees of the webinar when they were asked poll questions. Safety voice is a part of Iridium GMDSS services. 30 seconds after pressing the distress button, you are now able to talk directly to a person at the RCC. How important is this capability in context of the next time you have to invest in a GMDSS?
In response to the question, 48% of those responding said it was of absolute importance and 44% voted for important, with just 4% saying it was not important and another 4% selecting neither important nor unimportant.
Attendees were also asked what was the single biggest vessel connectivity challenge facing their organisation. 46% of responses was for hardware and installation costs of new technology, 31% selected monthly service costs and 23% thought inconsistent or unreliable connectivity.
Delegates were then asked, when considering the purchase of a GMDSS solution, what is more important in your decision making? With 47% saying capabilities of the terminal and service (including having voice), 45% thought total cost of ownership and only 8% size and ease of installation.
The audience was asked whether they were now or in the near-future evaluating their existing GMDSS and/or existing L-band satellite communications service for upgrade options. Only 11% said they were currently evaluating options, 44% voted for not at this time, 28% thought evaluation would be in the coming year and 17% said in over a year’s time.
They were then asked if they were more or less likely to select a GMDSS solution based on integrated broadband functionality for additional ship connectivity needs, or does this not matter? Of which, 56% said more likely, 16% less likely and 28% thought it did not matter.
Attendees were also asked, how important is it that the SSAS and LRIT services are integrated in the GMDSS terminal? 55% said it was of absolute importance, 31% said it was important, 10% thought not important and 4% neither important nor unimportant.