Maritime Safety Information for the digital world

14 November 2017

Peter Broadhurst, Inmarsat Maritime Senior Vice President, Safety and Security Services

  • maritime

  • safety

For more than 20 years, seafarers have relied on Inmarsat’s SafetyNET, the international system for broadcasting and automatic reception of Maritime Safety Information (MSI) and Search and Rescue (SAR) communications.

This service is still going strong, successfully transmitting more than 360,000 Distress, Urgency and Safety messages each year. However, with digital technology moving on at a rapid pace, the time has come to upgrade the platform.

Inmarsat has been working with our Maritime Safety Information Providers (MSIPs) and Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) partners to deliver a new web-based version of the SafetyNET platform, which will be rolled out worldwide throughout this year.

Like its predecessor, SafetyNET II is critical to the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), while also broadcasting safety-related messages to vessels – including ­ Distress Alert relays; meteorological forecasts; and navigation, tsunami and piracy warnings.

Supporting next generation GMDSS

SafetyNET II lays the foundation for the delivery of richer safety-critical information that will enhance next generation GMDSS, currently under development by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

As a secure web-based service, SafetyNET II is much easier to use for MSI and SAR broadcasts, which will reduce the risk of erroneous information reaching vessels. It also enables the originator to monitor the status of every message, confirming if it has been sent, scheduled or cancelled, as well as giving confirmation that the messages have been broadcast correctly. Additional functionality such as enhanced scheduling of messages and repetition have already proved to save valuable time within the operation centres.

The enhancements will also benefit ship security. The International Maritime Bureau Piracy Reporting Centre relies on SafetyNET to broadcast incident details or inform ships of risks in their vicinity. SafetyNET II will improve messaging capabilities between ships and law enforcement agencies, where incident details are also immediately broadcast.

Enhanced reliability and redundancy

Supported by a worldwide network of ground infrastructure, eight Inmarsat satellites and two purpose-built maritime safety servers, SafetyNET II broadcasts to FleetBroadband, Inmarsat C and Mini C terminals simultaneously, a change which will enhance the reach, reliability and redundancy of crucial safety messages.

In designing the upgrade, it was vital that we ensured that the new system was both future-proofed and backwards-compatible, and that transition between the two platforms did not cause any loss of messages. As a result, existing equipment will continue to work as normal, while ships with FleetBroadband will automatically benefit from enhanced resilience as messages will have multiple pathways to reach the bridge.

Many of the improvements included in SafetyNET II are therefore behind the scenes, but all aim at increasing the system’s user-friendliness, and its resilience over and above the high levels already achieved.

Even at trial stage, it has been credited with saving lives. The messaging system was pivotal in the rescue of three men in a 15 foot wooden boat off the Marshall Islands, approximately 2,800 nautical miles northeast of New Zealand, after Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) asked its Marine Operations Centre in Wellington to supplement aerial searches with SafetyNET II broadcast alerts. As a consequence, the captain of a bulk carrier en route to Panama posted additional look-outs, spotting the stranded crew and allowing RCCNZ to coordinate their successful rescue.

In a second incident, a fishing vessel crew of six were rescued after three days adrift in the Pacific Ocean without drinking water, 200 nautical miles off Tonga. A SafetyNET II broadcast led to the crew’s rescue by the German cruise ship MS Albatros.

About the author

Peter Broadhurst is responsible for the development of Inmarsat’s safety and security services. He defines the strategy, development and evolution of Inmarsat’s satellite communication services for maritime safety, navigation, safety of life at sea and data security.

Peter started his career at Inmarsat in 2014 as Vice President of Service Delivery for the Maritime business unit, and was instrumental in the launch of Inmarsat’s high-speed broadband service Fleet Xpress in March 2016. With over 25 years’ experience in the maritime industry, Peter began his career at sea as a Radio Officer.