IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee will review recommendations on updating GMDSS and radio navigation systems after review by the NCSR sub-committee
IMO is modernising the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) and expanding the worldwide radio navigation system.
In January 2020, IMO’s Sub-Committee on Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue (NCSR) endorsed upgrade work, approved rule amendments and recognised new satellite constellations for emergency communications and ship positioning.
GMDSS, which is mandatory under the regulations in chapter IV of SOLAS, is being updated with new technology and satellite networks.
As part of this, NCSR is revising the relevant regulations in SOLAS chapters III and IV and preparing consequential amendments to other instruments. Its aim is to enable more constellations to provide these vital communications and remove requirements for ships to carry obsolete systems.
NCSR intends to finalise this work for submission to the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), so SOLAS amendments can be adopted for entry into force in 2024. Inmarsat has been the sole provider of GMDSS since its inception and SOLAS regulations came into force in 1974.
As part of this modernisation process, Iridium Communications received formal verification of its rival GMDSS service, which uses the Next constellation of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites.
The US-headquartered satellite owner has received a letter of compliance from the International Mobile Satellite Organization (IMSO), confirming Iridium’s LEO constellation meets the operational and technical requirements of IMO.
Iridium chief executive Matt Desch received the letter from IMSO director general Captain Moin Ahmed on 13 January 2020, formally authorising Iridium to provide satellite GMDSS service for emergency and safety communications at sea and for alerts of serious maritime incidents.
Capt Ahmed says Iridium completed a thorough evaluation to become a recognised mobile satellite system in GMDSS. “This is a historic moment for public safety in the maritime community globally,” he says. “The addition of new providers of GMDSS services can help to create safer seas for all mariners,” says Capt Ahmed.
It took more than four years to evaluate Iridium’s infrastructure, starting in 2013, and demonstrate its emergency communications services.
“Recognition of Iridium marks the start of a new era in GMDSS and enhances the integrity and global coverage of safety services for seafarers across the world, including in the polar regions,” says Capt Ahmed.
Iridium will work with its partners around the world towards rolling out its GMDSS service throughout H1 2020. Its GMDSS launch service providers include Arion Communications, AST, Marlink, Marsat, NSSLGlobal, Satcom Global and Speedcast.
As part of GMDSS modernisation, NCSR approved a draft revision of the International SafetyNet Manual to reflect updates to related GMDSS services provided by Inmarsat at its 7th session held in London on 15-24 January 2020.
SafetyNet is integral to GMDSS for distributing maritime safety information (MSI) over satellite for automatic printing on ships. It provides navigational and meteorological warnings, meteorological forecasts, urgent safety-related messages and search and rescue (SAR)-related information to ships.
Worldwide radio navigation
NCSR 7 reviewed proposals and recommended the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) is recognised as a component of the worldwide radio navigation system (WWRNS) in January.
WWRNS provides position, navigation, and timing (PNT) information for vessels worldwide, with this data used by bridge electronics such as ECDIS for ship location on charts.
IMO currently recognises the US-funded Global Positioning System (GPS), Russia’s Glonass, China’s BeiDou satellites and European Union-developed Galileo as providers of this information.
IRNSS already provides PNT information from its regional NAVIC constellation of seven satellites. It is seeking IMO recognition and plans to increase NAVIC to 11 satellites in the next five years. India launches its own satellites using launch vehicles from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota.
Japan is also seeking recognition for its Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) of four satellites providing PNT information in the Asia-Oceania region, which could be increased to eight by 2024. NCSR 7 approved a draft MSC resolution on performance standards for shipborne QZSS receiver equipment in January. It invited Japan to provide further information and detailed data on the system for potential recognition as a future component of WWRNS.
SOLAS chapter V requires all ships to carry a global navigation satellite system or terrestrial radio navigation receiver, or other means, to establish and update the ship’s position by automatic means, for use throughout the voyage.
NCSR 7 made progress on ship traffic matters in January. It finalised a revision of the Guidelines for Vessel Traffic Services, updating the version adopted in 1997. This was referred to the MSC for approval in May and subsequent adoption by IMO’s Assembly in 2021.
This sub-committee also approved proposed amendments from national governments to ship routeing systems that will be sent to MSC for its adoption in IMO rules in May.
During the January meetings, NCSR 7:
Reviewed the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue Manual.
IMO meetings 2020
3-7 February - Sub-Committee on Ship Design and Construction (SDC 7)
17-21 February - Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR 7)
2-6 March - Sub-Committee on Ship Systems and Equipment (SSE 7)
16-20 March - Legal Committee (LEG 107)
30 March-3 April - Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 75)
20-24 April - Facilitation Committee (FAL 44)
13-22 May - Maritime Safety Committee (MSC 102)
1-5 June - Sub-Committee on Human element, Training and Watchkeeping (HTW 7)
15-19 June - Technical Cooperation Committee (TCC 70)
US guides vessel owners on emergency response communications
The US Office of Design and Engineering Standards has published guidance highlighting suitable distress signal devices for vessels that may require long-range rescue response provided through the GMDSS.
This also includes guidance on distress signalling and location technology for people working aboard US Coast Guard (USCG)-inspected vessels.
Seafarers are recommended to have an emergency position indicating radio beacon (epirb) operating on 406 MHz and complying with USCG performance standards and regulatory requirements.
Carriage of 406 MHz epirb, in accordance with SOLAS chapter IV, is considered as complying with 46 USCG 3306. These should be properly registered with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and approved by US Federal Communications Commission.
Guidelines also recommend vessel owners augment their distress signals with 406 MHz personal locator beacons.