Insight | Two million lives in our hands


Two million lives in our hands


The calls come in any time, day or night. It might be a colleague in our Network Operations Centre (NOC), alerting me that a distress alert has been transmitted; a Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) seeking information; or a distraught family member who has lost touch with a loved one at sea.

Whoever it is at the end of the line, I leap into action – because I know that lives are at stake.

Strictly speaking, Inmarsat’s responsibility as the leading provider of Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) satellite communications ends at ensuring our services meet the International Maritime Organization (IMO) requirements, including availability in access of 99.9%.

But we never forget that we are responsible for the safety of over two million seafarers and sailors every day. Everyone here – from me and the rest of the Maritime Safety Team to the NOC monitoring the progress of an average of nine distress alerts sent out by vessels every day, and the customer and technical support team members who may receive a call from someone in despair – is entirely committed to doing whatever we can to assist when any one of them is in peril.

In a Search and Rescue (SAR) situation, my involvement will include following the progress of a distress alert, checking in with the relevant MRCC and making sure they have all the support they need. Sometimes there’s detective work – tracking down the seller of a missing person’s satellite terminal to see if they have any useful information, for example.

We always stay on the case until there is a resolution – inevitably when you are dealing with an environment as hazardous as the ocean, that’s not always the one you have been working towards, but there are some very rewarding moments. Recently I got to see photographs of the rescue of a solo sailor that I had been involved in. It was quite emotional seeing him being winched up from his smashed catamaran, and knowing how close he came to losing his life.

It’s examples like this that highlight a terrible differentiation. Larger vessels that come under the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention must carry GMDSS-compliant satellite and radio equipment that allows them to broadcast an SOS. But what’s the difference between the life of a captain on a supertanker and a lone yachtsman or small fishing boat crew member?

It’s why we now include our free 505 emergency calling service on every Inmarsat maritime terminal, so every size of vessel can be in easy reach of a Search and Rescue authority.

It’s the opportunity to innovate and continually improve our safety services that makes me love this job. Since I joined Inmarsat five years ago I’ve led the development of Fleet Safety, an all-in-one GMDSS system for FleetBroadband and Fleet One, and SafetyNET II, the new generation international broadcast and automatic reception service for Maritime Safety Information. I’m particularly proud of RescueNET, which we created solely to improve Search and Rescue communications and offer free to MRCCs.

And we won’t stop there. So long as seafarers face danger, we will do everything in our power to help keep them safe.

About the author

John Dodd is responsible for the operation, regulatory and delivery requirements of current and future Inmarsat Maritime Safety Services within the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS). He works closely with external authorities such as the International Maritime Organization (IMO), International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), Rescue Coordination Centres (RCC) and Maritime Safety Information Providers (MSIPs) to ensure Inmarsat continues to be the market leader and pioneer in protecting and saving lives at sea. John has over 21 years’ experience in the communications industry, with his career starting in the British Military as a Telecommunications Operator Telegraphist.