Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) has improved maritime safety communications for the last 30 years. With the introduction of new technology, it is being updated with better coverage, capabilities and capacity.
Experts from IMO and satellite communications group Iridium provided guidance to vessel operators on the future direction of emergency and distress messaging and communications at Riviera’s ‘What every operator needs to know about the future of safety communications’ webinar, the second of the Maritime Communications Webinar Week. This webinar covered the new safety services for shipping and the benefits to seafarers from low Earth orbit (LEO), medium Earth orbit (MEO) and geostationary orbiting satellites.
IMO technical officer Aidan Jennings and Iridium director for maritime safety and security services Kyle Hurst provided information on the upcoming options available to operators, bringing insight to flag state perspectives, GMDSS hardware and future developments for maritime safety communications.
Mr Jennings said GMDSS had served the maritime community well since its implementation in the late 1980s but 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 on modernising GMDSS and reports its results to the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) for approvals.
Mr Jennings said there had already been good progress, such as recognising Iridium as a second satellite constellation to provide GMDSS services, Inmarsat being the sole provider to date. “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.
Mr Hurst said Iridium had progressed in introducing GMDSS services through its LEO satellite constellation and new marine communications radios. “We have done a lot of work for IMO recognition and to get approval for our system,” he said. “We are looking to launch this technology, which will have a positive effect on maritime safety.”
Iridium has included distress alert, confirmation and distress voice services, and maritime safety information within its GMDSS. It has also co-operated with rescue co-ordination centres to develop these into more effective services.
The first Iridium GMDSS ship terminal, LT-3100S, is currently being tested on vessels. “We are preparing to launch our GMDSS service in Q3 2020,” said Mr Hurst. “And we expect more [terminal] systems will be coming.”