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Maritime Digitalisation & Communications

IMO is divided over GMDSS recognition of Iridium

Tue 03 Apr 2018

IMO is divided over GMDSS recognition of Iridium
Sub-Committee on Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue discusses GMDSS modernisation

Maritime law makers faces stiff challenges in their work on the future of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System, writes Aline de BiŤvre

In May, IMOís Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) will need to tackle the question of whether to incorporate Iridiumís mobile satellite system into discussions about the future of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS).

MSCís Sub-Committee on Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue, which held its fifth meeting (NCSR 5) in February, reached a stalemate on the issue. As submitter of Iridiumís application, the US authorities deplored what it called a lack of due process and the inconsistent application of the required assessment procedures.

These are stipulated in IMO Assembly Resolution A.1001(25), which effectively provides the regulatory compliance framework for recognising and operating mobile satellite communication systems in the GMDSS.

The current legacy systems are all Inmarsat systems (such as Inmarsat-C, SafetyNet and Fleet77). NCSR 5 completed its positive consideration of the UKís application for the additional incorporation of Inmarsatís FleetBroadband maritime safety data service, Fleet Safety, into GMDSS and prepared a draft MSC resolution concerning a statement of recognition for adoption in May by MSC 99. Recognition will be limited to the coverage area under the Inmarsat-4 Middle East and Asia (MEAS) region satellite that overlaps with other 1-4 constellation satellites.

To address the anticipated future use of mobile satellite services for the GMDSS, MSC 98, in June 2017, adopted a resolution recommending generic performance standards for every ship Earth station that operates on a future IMO-recognised mobile satellite service. In addition, MSC 99 is expected to consider for adoption draft amendments to SOLAS chapter IV, together with revised equipment certificates. The committee has the prerogative to decide on the entry-into-force date of SOLAS amendments.

There is growing support within IMO for opening up the GMDSS to additional service providers on grounds that this would provide welcome extra protection for seafarers and passengers at sea. The assessment of Iridium went ahead following the decision of MSC 96 in May 2016 that Iridium could be granted recognition, subject to fulfilment of the Resolution A.1001(25) requirements.

There is growing support within IMO for opening up the GMDSS to additional service providers on grounds that this would provide welcome extra protection for seafarers and passengers at sea

The International Mobile Satellite Organization (IMSO) carried out two assessments and presented its second report at NCSR 5. Many delegations expressed their satisfaction with it and some, including The Marshall Islands and Norway, stated their outright support for the US proposal to recommend Iridiumís recognition to MSC 99 for its approval.

However, NCSR 5 reached an impasse on Iridiumís recognition as a number of delegations raised concerns that went beyond Resolution A.1001(25) that, in their view, should be addressed first. These included, among others, type-approval of equipment, guidance of Iridium on the provision of maritime safety information and regulatory protection of frequency bands under the International Telecommunication Unionís (ITUís) Radio Regulations. NCSR 5 decided to request guidance from MSC 99 on the next course of action.

Comprehensive updating of the GMDSS, first adopted 30 years ago, represents a mammoth task that goes to the heart of IMOís mission to save lives at sea. It involves the development of amendments to SOLAS chapters III and IV and a host of related and consequential amendments to other existing IMO instruments. All this work must be completed by 2022 if the agreed timeline for entry into force of the modernised GMDSS in 2024 is to be met.

Additional work concerns the development of new instruments, guidance, recommendations or performance standards related to the amended SOLAS provisions. There also needs to be alignment of the GMDSS revision with IMOís ongoing e-navigation work as there are implications for both radio and satellite communications.

IMO established a correspondence group outside NCSRís scheduled annual meetings. The groupís involvement will also help the necessary liaison work with ITU by submitting an interim report to the Joint IMO/ITU Experts Group in September of this year. The ITUís next World Radiocommunication Conference is scheduled for November 2019.

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