Inmarsat seeks GMDSS recognition for FleetBroadband
An IMO subcommittee will discuss a request from the UK to grant formal recognition to Inmarsat’s FleetBroadband for use in the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System
IMO will address a request from the UK to grant formal recognition to Inmarsat’s FleetBroadband mobile satellite system for use in the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), writes Aline De Bievre. The decision of IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) to refer a UK information paper to its Navigation, Radiocommunications and Search and Rescue (NCSR) subcommittee is a strong indication that the organisation is increasingly aware of the additional opportunities arising from developments in satellite services for enhanced GMDSS provision.
At the committee’s session in November 2016 (MSC 97), the UK suggested it would be advantageous for ships to have access to the FleetBroadband Maritime Safety Data Service (MSDS) for the GMDSS carriage requirement under the Solas convention. This requirement applies to ships of more than 300gt.
In an information paper, it described the MSDS as the natural progression of the maritime safety services provided by FleetBroadband and Fleet One, all of which operate over the Inmarsat fleet of four I-4 satellites. These provide a similar coverage to the older Inmarsat I-3 constellation. The FleetBroadband system supports maritime safety voice services, which provide distress and urgent voice communications complying with the relevant IMO resolutions, A.694(17) and MSC.130(75). It will also support data safety services and the capability to receive maritime safety information, upon the introduction of the MSDS in 2017.
The MSC decided to instruct NCSR, when it meets from 6 to 10 March (NCSR 4), to consider how the process of recognition should be undertaken and to submit a report to MSC 98 in June. The particular question that needs clarifying is whether a new application for recognition and use in the GMDSS would be needed, or whether FleetBroadband could be a bolt-on system. The brief discussion at MSC 97 revealed a variety of views and the general feeling was that more information was needed before making a decision.
According to the UK information paper, Inmarsat FleetBroadband terminals equipped with a maritime safety terminal are capable of the same GMDSS functions as Inmarsat-C, as well as having enhanced safety and distress features. They are effectively compliant with the GMDSS and can be used for GMDSS communications.
A ship using an Inmarsat FleetBroadband terminal should therefore be considered as meeting the Solas requirement for an Inmarsat mobile earth station, as has already been agreed for Inmarsat C and Fleet 77. Inmarsat notified the NSCR subcommittee in March 2016 that its Fleet 77 service, which carries voice and data communication services, will end on 1 December 2020.
The UK’s request comes at an important time in IMO’s ongoing work with regard to the GMDSS. The organisation has been engaged in a comprehensive review of the GMDSS with the aim to modernise and upgrade it. Furthermore, it has indicated it could recognise Iridium as a second GMDSS service provider once a number of technical issues relating to the capability of Iridium’s satellite constellation have been resolved.
Inmarsat is still the only global safety services provider approved to deliver the GMDSS under the Solas convention. The Inmarsat C service, which carries data and messaging communication services only, has been successful in providing a critical link between vessels in distress and Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centres (MRCCs) around the world for the past 25 years. It always prioritises seafarer distress alerts to MRCSS and nearby ships.
At MSC 97, the UK stressed that the FleetBroadband system had not experienced any major operational outages in either space or ground segments. Its reliability and availability has been in excess of the required 99.9 per cent availability each year since January 2010.