International lifeline saves lives at sea – every single day

26 February 2016

  • maritime

Sailor’s view as a rescue takes place – image courtesey of the Irish Coast Guard.

Since Inmarsat’s inception in 1979 by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), it has been our mission to protect the lives of global seafarers and provide them with a fundamental communication lifeline.

Shipping was one of the very first industries to adopt and widely implement strict international safety standards. Its commitment to protect lives at sea is now bound by a comprehensive framework of global maritime safety regulations set out by the IMO in 1992 through the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS).

GMDSS is an international system which uses satellite and terrestrial technology and ship-board radio systems to ensure rapid, automated alerting of shore-based communication and rescue authorities – in addition to ships in the immediate vicinity – in the event of an incident at sea.

The only GMDSS-approved satellite safety service

Since its introduction, GMDSS has been responsible for saving many thousands of lives at sea – those threatened by emergency situations such as collisions, fires, bad weather and piracy – and today it remains the most important development in maritime safety since the advent of radio in 1899.

When it comes to satellite safety systems, Inmarsat has the only GMDSS-approved safety services, for use on board vessels registered at 300 gross tonnage and above, and we are immensely proud of our heritage and long-standing relationship with the IMO.

Putting safety first with Inmarsat C

On 1 March 2016, we will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of our Inmarsat C safety service, which lies at the heart of the GMDSS. Over 100,000 vessels operating in the world’s oceans trust and rely on Inmarsat C to provide vital communications and free distress alerts, every single day, when it matters most. The service provides mariners with priority distress alerts to shore-based rescue coordination centres (RCCs) and other vessels in the local vicinity, offering reliable and secure 99.9% availability.

In 2015 alone, there were more than 600 distress alerts broadcast over Inmarsat C, from vessels in urgent need.

The Inmarsat Network Operations Team will receive a notification when a distress call has been made. As safety is paramount at Inmarsat and takes priority over everything we do, our dedicated team keeps a 24-hour watch for Inmarsat C distress alerts, tracking and monitoring in real-time the RCC response to ensure help is on its way. If for any reason the distress alert has been missed, someone will make a call to the nearest RCC and request urgent assistance.

The future of maritime safety

With around 80% of the world’s trade travelling across oceans, we must continue to protect those who dedicate their life to supporting the global economy.

As we look to the future, we are committed to investing, innovating and developing our vital safety services at sea to aid mariners and search and rescue teams, whatever their needs may be.

It is our vision to integrate safety, environmental monitoring and regulatory compliance into a single, easy-to-use, robust and reliable solution and through the launch of our next-generation Inmarsat-6 satellite constellation in 2020, we will continue to provide seafarers with our trusted and reliable global coverage – without compromise.

About the author

Ronald SpithoutRonald Spithout has been President, Inmarsat Maritime, since October 2014, overseeing global maritime activities for Inmarsat. Prior to joining the maritime business unit, he served as President, Inmarsat Enterprise. In this role, held since 2012, he had global responsibility for sales, including accountability for P&L, strategic direction and partnerships for enterprise markets, including Energy, Media and Commercial. Spithout came to Inmarsat from Stratos Global, which had been acquired by Inmarsat in April 2009 and then restructured under the Inmarsat brand in January 2012. Ronald Spithout began his career in the telecommunications business in the late 80s, held various sales positions for KPN (the Royal Dutch Telecom Operator) in the Netherlands and has held numerous positions with several of KPN’s JV companies. He holds a degree in electrical engineering from HTS-Rotterdam, the Rotterdam Institute for Technology. He also served in the Dutch military as a reserve Lieutenant in the Dutch Cavalry.


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