When the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF) approached me to deliver safety training to search and rescue (SAR) personnel in Rabat, Morocco I saw it as a fantastic opportunity. Inmarsat is an Associate Member of the IMRF and this was a way we could contribute to its ongoing development project in Africa which will help improve SAR capability across 29 countries.
The aim of this three-day course was to cover the latest developments in Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS) and SAR technology and share best practice, with the participants then passing on their knowledge to their teams in Morocco, Senegal and Nigeria. The GMDSS is an international system which uses the latest terrestrial and satellite technology and ship-board radio systems so that shore-based rescue and communications authorities can be alerted as quickly as possible in the event of an emergency.
The reaction to this first training course was outstanding. It very quickly became clear that the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCCs) represented hadn’t been aware of all that is already available to help speed up and improve SAR operations – for instance, the Inmarsat database that gives them access to vessel contact details so they can quickly call it to confirm a distress alert is real. Also, how they just need their desk phone and a PIN number to make a distress priority call over the Inmarsat network that interrupts any other call a vessel is on. I discovered that when it comes to distress alert relays – messages broadcast by an MRCC to all ships in the area who may be able to assist a vessel in peril – they were getting France to send them. Instead, by applying for SafetyNET certification, they can do it themselves, which is so much quicker. I was able to get Rabat MRCC set up there and then, and Nigeria and Senegal will follow.
So already we’ve made a huge difference to search and rescue in African waters – building up MRCC capacity and making their lives easier without costing them a penny, as we don’t charge for it and they don’t need any extra equipment.
Looking to the future of GMDSS
The training also looked ahead to future FleetBroadband safety services once they are GMDSS-approved, such as Distress Chat. This is a chatroom for multiple vessels and MRCCs, with all messages logged, which will speed up coordinating SAR even more. Distress Chat is already available for MRCC to MRCC communications through our new MSS (Maritime Safety Server) web-based interface. This interface provides many SAR functionalities for MRCCs and Maritime Safety information broadcasts for Maritime Safety Information Providers globally. As a result of this training session, the North Atlantic MRCC group have requested access to this system which will provide further coordination between many global SAR authorities.
More often than not I am in government buildings or at the International Maritime Organization so delivering this training was very educational for me as well. To see how developing countries are creating their MRCCs was quite humbling – the Moroccan government has invested a lot in a new MRCC in Rabat to improve maritime safety.
We provide the service but they are the ones who are using it to save lives and it gave me a greater direct appreciation of the critical value the MRCCs provide. At sea they are the emergency services; they are the heroes called upon to provide that first reaction to an incident.
About the author
John Dodd is Director of Safety Services at Inmarsat Maritime, responsible for the operation, regulatory and delivery requirements of current and future Maritime Safety Services within the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS). John 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 Safety Services continue to be the market leaders and pioneers in protecting and saving lives at sea. John is responsible for the further development and implementation of the latest Inmarsat Safety Service, SafetyNET II, providing global MSIPs with a new digital interactive interface that broadcasts safety information globally and simultaneously over multiple satellite constellations. He has over 21 years’ experience in the communications industry, with his career starting in the British Military as a Telecommunications Operator Telegraphist.