Iridium is launching a GMDSS service over its LEO constellation this quarter after successful tests on several ships worldwide
A new maritime safety communications service is being launched as part of IMO’s drive to modernise the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS).
Iridium expects to introduce a new commercial GMDSS service and the first terminals during Q3 2020 after successful sea trials.
Iridium director for maritime safety and security services Kyle Hurst provided information on the upcoming options available to operators during Riviera Maritime Media’s ‘What every operator needs to know about the future of safety communications’ webinar on 22 July, during the Maritime Communications Webinar Week.
This GMDSS will deliver distress alerts to rescue co-ordination centres (RCCs) during global emergencies at sea. It will send identification data, status and position information to the RCC when the emergency red button is pressed for more than three seconds.
Iridium’s GMDSS service will also facilitate distress voice communications with direct calls at the highest priority to an RCC once the alert has been received. Maritime Safety Information (MSI) will be broadcast to ships, including navigational and meteorological information using Iridium SafetyCast. This uses Iridium’s constellation of 66 cross-linked low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites that already deliver commercial communications, connectivity and automatic identification system (AIS) data.
“An RCC will confirm alert delivery through a message and then voice calls to the RCC are opened,” said Mr Hurst. “RCCs will be able to talk to seafarers in distress to get a better understanding of the situation.”
He said Iridium GMDSS and commercial terminals will be launched in the next two months. “Its development has been a huge project; we have this on vessels around the world for testing,” said Mr Hurst.
“We have co-operated with RCCs and their feedback is excellent. How information is delivered to RCCs is key. We are also making improvements to MSI, so data is delivered clearly to keep ships out of trouble,” he added.
MSI information is concise and clearly displayed to be included in voyage plans and execution. All functions, voice and data are in one terminal, while there is more efficient information gathering by RCCs enabling the search and rescue response to be initiated earlier and with more information. More improvements are planned in the next year. “We are looking at including medical advice and assistance,” said Mr Hurst.
GMDSS has been provided to ships for more than 30 years using L-band radio frequencies over Inmarsat’s geostationary satellites. The addition of Iridium’s LEO constellation extends the coverage. “We will cover the entire globe. Ships in sea area A4 will in the future will have access to GMDSS, so for the first time it will be global,” said Mr Hurst.
GMDSS will also be extended to smaller vessels outside of IMO requirements, such as fishing vessels. “We need a system to assist smaller vessels if they are in trouble, so we reduced the costs to make this possible,” said Mr Hurst.
The first Iridium GMDSS ship terminal available in Q3 2020 will be Lars Thrane’s LT-3100S radiocommunications device. “And we expect more [terminal] systems will be coming,” said Mr Hurst. Iridium Certus GMDSS service will be launched after the initial GMDSS service is available.
Iridium Certus GMDSS will be available on Cobham Satcom’s Sailor 4300 and Thales
VesseLink GMDSS-compatible terminals. Iridium said these terminals will require supplemental below-deck hardware from their manufacturers to enable Iridium GMDSS services.
IMO modernisation progress
IMO technical officer Aidan Jennings said (during the webinar) GMDSS had served the maritime community well since its implementation in the late 1980s, but it needed modernising as advanced technology was introduced.
“Modernising GMDSS is key worldwide for exchanging information in distress situations,” said Mr Jennings.
IMO’s sub-committee for Navigation, Communications, Search and Rescue (NCSR) has been working over its last five sessions on modernising GMDSS and reporting its results to the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) for approval.
“Their aim is enabling the use of modern communication systems in the GMDSS, while removing requirements to carry obsolete systems,” said Mr Jennings.
Part of this project is recognising providers of mobile satellite communications systems in the GMDSS. For this IMO has adopted Criteria for the Provision of Mobile Satellite Communication Systems in the GMDSS (Resolution A.1001(25)).
“This sets out the criteria and process for evaluating mobile satellite communication systems that might have the potential to offer maritime distress and safety communications within the GMDSS,” said Mr Jennings. This recognition has to be agreed by the MSC.
Mr Jennings said there had already been good progress, such as recognising both Inmarsat and Iridium as satellite constellations to provide GMDSS services.
“The goal is to finalise GMDSS modernisation in 2021 and submit it to MSC, so rule amendments can be adopted for entry into force in 2024,” said Mr Jennings.
However, the global Covid-19 pandemic has delayed many of IMO’s plans, as it had to halt committee and sub-committee meetings and rescinded its original 2020 calendar of events. IMO is considering virtual meetings and is creating a preliminary programme for 2021. IMO meetings postponed included MSC 102 and the 16th meeting of the joint IMO/International Telecommunication Union experts’ group on maritime radiocommunication matters.
Other postponements were meetings of the sub-committees on the Implementation of IMO Instruments and Human Element Training and Watchkeeping, the IMO expert group on data harmonisation, committees on Technical Co-operation and Facilitation and a symposium covering ‘A Holistic approach to standards for port operational data in maritime supply chains’.
IMO has trialled language interpretation platform KUDO during a series of informal virtual sessions to facilitate discussions during extraordinary meetings of the IMO Council.
Watch the ‘What every operator needs to know about the future of safety communications’ webinar in our library