Insight | IMSO and Inmarsat: 40 Years


IMSO and Inmarsat: 40 Years


In celebration of our 40th anniversary, Captain Moin Ahmed, Director General of IMSO reflects on our 40-year partnership and a history inextricably linked with one another to enhance safety of life at sea.

The International Mobile Satellite Organization (IMSO) is the inter-governmental organization responsible for the oversight of certain public communication services provided by mobile satellite communication systems, such as those provided by Inmarsat, recognized for providing service in the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS). IMSO has also been appointed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) as the Coordinator for the Long-Range Identification and Tracking of Ships (LRIT) globally, in order to ensure proper implementation and operation of the LRIT system worldwide by SOLAS Contracting Governments. The membership of IMSO currently stands at 105 Member States.

Satellites have been a medium of our day to day communications for longer than we might think. The idea of using a network of geosynchronous satellites in geostationary orbit is generally attributed to Arthur C Clarke following his article for the October 1945 issue of Wireless World magazine, entitled “Extra-Terrestrial Relays — Can Rocket Stations Give Worldwide Radio Coverage?”, which predicted that, in the near future, artificial satellites could be placed in geostationary orbit and used as repeaters to relay radio signals around the earth. It was then in 1964 that the first geostationary satellite, Syncom 3 was launched to prove the concept.

With the safety and commercial communication needs of shipping being an obvious application for satellite-based communications, extensive experimental trials of ship-to-shore and shore-to-ship satellite links led, in 1976, to a gathering of 26 Governments at a diplomatic conference and the adoption of the international convention to establish the intergovernmental organization (IGO) named International Maritime Satellite Organization, at that time known as INMARSAT, based at the old IMO Headquarters in Piccadilly.

The purpose and goal of the initiative was to remove limitations of communications at sea for seafarers and give them access to the satellite-based communication technologies to enhance safety of life at sea and to support the prosperity of the shipping industry. INMARSAT IGO was born out of a concern for the safety of all who sail the high seas and has resulted in an efficient and reliable telecommunications network covering the oceans of the world.

Inmarsat Safety and Security Director John Dodd speaking at IMSO 40th Anniversary Celebrations with Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pearce, current Director General Captain Moin Ahmed and former Director Generals’ Olof Lundberg and Captain Esteban Pacha.

Of the 40 years of maritime satellite communication history, the first 20 years were under the banner of an IGO operating commercial services, which revolutionized how communications are organized at sea, by improving Search and Rescue operations through satellites and facilitating contact between ship and shore establishments at all times and in any location. During the second 20 years, when Inmarsat emerged as a company after the privatization of the commercial part of the IGO, both IMSO and Inmarsat have strived to increase safety at sea and are currently responsible for over 1.6 million lives at sea. For decades we worked side by side in the same building up until last year in July 2018 when IMSO moved to the IMO Headquarters. However, our commitment and our efficient working relationship remains the same regardless of location.

IMSO and Inmarsat work around the clock to ensure that seafarers, among others, are protected at work and leisure, no matter where they are. Satellites are integral to ensuring that distance is no obstacle to those that require maritime safety, security and marine environmental protection. Inmarsat has paved the way to ensure satellite communications are constantly improving and modernizing, as shown by the plans to upgrade GMDSS to the 6th Generation satellites in the future. Together we ensure that GMDSS services remain available through the Inmarsat satellite constellation at all times. We have a mandate to ensure that all services are able to be up and running within one hour of a fault occurring. The task of maritime safety is a priority which we all take extremely seriously.

We are no longer simply tasked with maritime matters, as shown by IMSO’s name change to International ‘Mobile’ Satellite Organization; a move to reflect the mobility and versatility of satellite services and their adaptation to land, sea and air services. Inmarsat has also expanded their services past maritime affairs, and together we continue to show that satellite communications are among the most robust and secure available.

From Left to Right: First Director General of IMSO/INMARSAT Olof Lundberg, Current Director General Captain Moin Ahmed and former Director General Captain Esteban Pacha.

The year 2019, along with marking 40 years of IMSO, also marks 20 years of Inmarsat plc. Our history is thus inextricably linked with that of Inmarsat’s. We are extremely proud to regulate our mandated areas of Inmarsat’s services and provide assistance and guidance in order to guarantee the safest possible environment for all those that embark on any voyage at sea. We wish Inmarsat many more boundless successful decades in public safety services and we are committed to a fruitful and prosperous partnership.

Captain Moin Ahmed
Director General

About the author


Captain Moin Ahmed is the Director General of the International Mobile Satellite Organization (IMSO). He holds a Certificate of Competency as Master Mariner and MSc in Shipping Management (Technical). He was also educated on maritime satellite navigation and communication systems. In his maritime professional career of more than 40 years, he spent 10 years at sea and 30 years in shore establishments with senior appointments in technical, operational, commercial, training of maritime personnel, maritime safety administration and in the UN system as a senior international civil servant. In the UN system, he served at the highest professional category at the IMO Secretariat on Technical Cooperation, Maritime Safety and Member State Audit. Prior to joining the IMO Secretariat, he represented Bangladesh to IMO and several other international organizations, and has contributed to the promotion of maritime safety, security and protection of the marine environment. He brings with him a wealth of global experience and is known as an organizational leader in setting standards of excellence. He demonstrated his leadership role as the Chairman of the IMO Technical Co-operation Committee, IMSO Assembly, several international expert groups, President of the World Maritime University (WMU) Student Council and also as a Governor of World Maritime University Board. He had been a visiting faculty member of the IMO International Maritime Academy and currently at the World Maritime University.