IMO continues rejuvenating GMDSS with both Iridium and Inmarsat progressing with their maritime safety communications and information services
Key advances were made on modernising the 30-year-old Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) that provides communication lines for ships in emergencies. IMO experts made recommendations and incremental decisions at the sixth session of the Sub-Committee on Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue (NCSR 6), at IMO’s headquarters in London.
IMO is upgrading the satellite-based system for safety information delivery and search and rescue (SAR) communications first adopted as a mandatory carriage requirement in 1988. The latest developments in this project were discussed by NCSR 6 working groups and committee sessions between 16-25 January.
The modernisation plan aims to update safety communications provisions, including allowing new satellite services to be incorporated and modern technology, such as data transmissions and instant messaging adopted.
IMO aims to develop a set of draft amendments to SOLAS chapters III and IV, ready for adoption in 2022 and with entry into force in 2024. There will also be consequential amendments to other instruments, such as guidance and performance standards.
During NCSR 6, the sub-committee agreed in principle to draft amendments to SOLAS chapters III and IV, and continued its work on other amendments. A correspondence group was established to continue this work before the next NCSR session, which is expected in January 2020.
There have already been amendments to SOLAS to allow new providers of GMDSS services to be added, including maritime safety information (MSI) such as navigational and meteorological warnings, meteorological forecasts and other urgent safety-related messages broadcast to ships.
Last year, the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) amended SOLAS during its 99th session to include Iridium Satellite and potentially other regional satellite operators into GMDSS. These amendments allow MSI to broadcast to a defined geographical area through those newly recognised services, in addition to the existing Inmarsat services.
Inmarsat has provided GMDSS with more than 99% uptime and reliability since its mandatory adoption in 1988. It is introducing an updated GMDSS service, Fleet Safety, which includes digital architecture for SafetyNet MSI and RescueNet messaging for SAR operations and organisations.
NCSR 6 finalised interim guidance on the technical requirements for Fleet Safety enhanced group call receivers to be SOLAS compliant.
Inmarsat Maritime president Ronald Spithout said Fleet Safety would be “supported by a new breed of maritime safety terminals that will have distress chat and other advanced functionalities” and is fully approved by IMO. This service will be through its L-band coverage on Inmarsat’s fourth and sixth generation of satellites along with FleetBroadband and Fleet One communications services.
In June 2018, MSC 99 adopted a statement of recognition for services provided by the Inmarsat Fleet Safety to GMDSS, in the coverage area under the Inmarsat-4 satellite, which is Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Mr Spithout expects IMO approval for Fleet Safety to become global during 2019.
Inmarsat Maritime senior vice president for safety and security Peter Broadhurst said progress for implementing Fleet Safety is ongoing. He said Inmarsat was conducting a full-scale exercise with a rescue co-ordination centre to demonstrate the reliability, versatility and effectiveness of Fleet Safety.
MSC 99 recognised Iridium’s Safety Voice, short-burst data and enhanced group calling services to incorporate into GMDSS. During Q2 and H2 2018, Iridium began obtaining approvals and certification for GMDSS inclusion, which includes working with the International Mobile Satellite Organisation (IMSO), the inter-governmental organisation appointed by IMO to manage oversight of satellite GMDSS providers.
IMSO will monitor the implementation of the Iridium services and report to MSC when the public services agreement with Iridium has been concluded and a letter of compliance issued.
Iridium director of maritime safety and security services Kyle Hurst said there had been “significant progress toward developing the operational system” and he expects the service to be ready, and regulatory hurdles overcome, by January 2020.
The US-headquartered company launched a second-generation satellite constellation and has worked with service resellers, terminal manufacturers and maritime rescue co-ordinator centres over the last two years.
“There has been great support from multiple maritime departments, representing numerous countries from around the world, interested in helping us develop our GMDSS programme,” Mr Hurst told Maritime Digitalisation & Communications. He added that the polar coverage of Iridium’s constellation has garnered interest.
“A number of countries have expressed interest in gaining early access to Iridium’s GMDSS service for its polar coverage”
“A number of countries have expressed interest in gaining early access to Iridium’s GMDSS service for its polar coverage, ensuring more reliable and safer communications in these critical regions,” he said.
“It has been a fantastic programme so far, seeing the beginnings of our new GMDSS services,” Mr Hurst continued. “I truly think that we will bring something new to the maritime industry that will not only improve communications but can also save lives.”
From a technical perspective, Iridium has completed the requirements and design stages and begun the development phase, which are the first steps in building the operational GMDSS unit. “The dedication of our manufacturers to ensuring their terminals do their part in improving the capabilities of GMDSS is impressive,” said Mr Hurst.
Iridium will continue to work closely with IMSO during 2019 to ensure its technology and services are compliant with all requirements. “We are on track to complete this initial development by the middle of 2019,” said Mr Hurst. “Upon completion of this stage, we will begin the testing and evaluation phase of its GMDSS programme.”
On the terminal side, Iridium worked with Cobham Satcom, Thales and Lars Thrane to develop GMDSS terminals. Cobham Satcom and Thales have already unveiled GMDSS-ready terminals for Iridium Certus services. Lars Thrane has introduced the LT-3100 terminal for Iridium voice and data services that is GMDSS ready. This would be suitable for fishing vessels and workboats, whereas Cobham Satcom’s Sailor and Thales’ Vesselink terminals would be suitable for merchant shipping.
Cobham Satcom chief executive Janus Pagh said there had been progress with both Iridium and Inmarsat on developing the next generation of GMDSS terminals. He expects new Sailor models to be introduced later this year after testing and approvals.
Other communications milestones at NCSR 6
NCSR 6 continued to evaluate China’s BeiDou navigation satellite system as a future GMDSS provider. The sub-committee also approved draft amendments to the following MSI-related instruments to accommodate modernised GMDSS developments, to be effective from 1 January 2020:
NCSR 6 also finalised draft performance standards for float-free emergency position-indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs) that operate on 406 MHz frequency so that these can form part of the GMDSS. These performance standards are expected to be adopted at MSC 101, in June 2019. They include requirements for EPIRBs to be provided with an automatic identification system locating signal.
Snapshot CV: Kyle Hurst
Kyle Hurst has 19 years of experience in maritime satellite communications and is Iridium's director of maritime safety and security services. He has previously worked for Inmarsat, Thuraya and was director of channel development at Station711 before joining Iridium. He is an ex mariner with experience with the Australian military and Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency in the Solomon Islands.