Maritime safety

Why mariners rely on Inmarsat

Safety is in our blood – we were set up in 1979 by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to provide reliable satellite safety communications and we’re immensely proud of our heritage.

When disaster strikes – a catastrophic storm, a collision, a medical emergency – mariners know that they can rely on our safety services to get help fast.

Plenty has changed in the intervening 35 years, and we’ve continued to stay one step ahead to ensure our safety services go above and beyond the IMO’s Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) requirements.

Today, we support both SOLAS and non-SOLAS vessels and some 1.2 million seafarers depend on us for a communications lifeline that is reliable and unaffected by bad weather.

And we provide satellite and ground network availability in excess of the IMO stipulated requirement of 99.9%.

All Inmarsat maritime safety Distress and Urgency communications services are free to vessels at sea, whether over Inmarsat B, Inmarsat C, Mini C or Inmarsat Fleet 77 (SOLAS), or FleetBroadband (non-SOLAS). This includes distress alerts, distress calls, urgent navigation, meteorological and danger reports, medical assistance and advice, and Maritime Safety Information.

What is the GMDSS and who has to comply?

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

Under the GMDSS, all cargo ships of 300 gross registered tonnage and upwards, and all passenger ships engaged on international voyages, must be equipped with satellite and radio equipment that conforms to international standards, as set out in the GMDSS.

What is SOLAS?

All ships subject to Chapter IV of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) have to fit GMDSS equipment. Details of the SOLAS convention can be found on the IMO website.

The only GMDSS-approved satellite safety service provider

We are the ONLY provider of GMDSS-approved satellite communications systems.  They are:

» Inmarsat B
» Inmarsat C and
» Inmarsat Fleet F77

Ships with Inmarsat terminals on-board that support the distress function are able to send an alert by pressing a Dedicated Distress Button (DDB). The alert is given the highest priority over the Inmarsat network and is automatically routed through a Land Earth Station (LES) to the closest Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) on shore.

In addition to the distress alert, ships are able to send distress priority messages – both of which are safety functions on Inmarsat C and Mini C terminals. Inmarsat B and Fleet 77 terminals also support distress voice services.

Voice distress and urgency priority services on FleetBroadband

Our dedicated Maritime Safety Services team continues to ensure that our public service obligations in respect of the GMDSS are carried out, not just to the letter of the law, but to the fullest possible extent, using all available resources. Some ships do not need to comply with the GMDSS requirements but still need access to reliable safety communication services, which is why we support both SOLAS and non-SOLAS ships.

Inmarsat’s voice distress service utilises FleetBroadband, Inmarsat’s flagship seamless voice and broadband data service, to provide priority call access, interrupting all non-distress calls – either ship-to-shore or shore-to-ship – as soon as the Dedicated Distress Button (DDB) is pressed.

The ship is connected to an operator at one of four Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centres (MRCCs) strategically located around the globe. This service is enabled by fitting an equipment upgrade to Cobham Satcom Sailor FleetBroadband terminals.

In addition, urgency priority voice services that require immediate attention and assistance from MRCC or other shore-based authorities are also implemented. Urgency priority calls include the following:

  • 32 – Medical advice
  • 38 – Medical assistance
  • 39 – Maritime assistance

505 emergency calling on FleetBroadband

Ships can also make emergency voice calls by dialling 505, a service that comes as standard with all FleetBroadband terminals. With 505 emergency calling, all calls are automatically routed to the appropriate MRCC.

What are the benefits of 505 emergency calling?

  • Free service on all FleetBroadband terminals
  • Simple, memorable number to call – just think “SOS” (505)
  • Instant access to an MRCC
  • No additional equipment or subscription required

Dealing with false alerts

One of the main causes of false distress alerts from ships is improper use of GMDSS equipment by inadequately trained personnel. The IMO has adopted Resolution A.814 (19) “Guidelines for the avoidance of false distress alerts” for different types of communication equipment and MSC/Circ.862 “Clarification of certain requirements in IMO performance standards for GMDSS equipment”, including specific requirements for a distress button, which state it should:

  • Be a dedicated distress button
  • Be clearly identified
  • Be protected against inadvertent activations
  • Require at least two independent actions to activate a distress alert
  • Be possible to interrupt repetitive transmissions of distress alerts and messages.

If a distress alert is mistakenly sent from an Inmarsat C or Mini C terminal, a cancellation message should be sent with distress priority via the same LES so it is automatically routed to the same MRCC as a false alert.

Our satellite communications systems make it possible for the ships sending distress alerts to be contacted by MRCCs, to check whether the alert is real or false, before search and rescue operations begin.

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