On Thursday, May 19, Spanish police entered Barcelona’s marinas and refit yards to track down the source of a rogue radio signal that was disrupting the local rail network. As it transpired, the source of the signal was a superyacht berthed at OneOcean Port Vell, which was, unknowingly, operating using an illegal frequency.
This example is just one instance of a far larger problem; companies are fitting radio systems on board superyachts that are in direct breach of international law, these breaches are considered criminal offenses and may carry a maximum sentence of eight years in jail, although to date, there have been no convictions within the superyacht world.
The UN has designated 60 maritime frequencies to be used for radio communications, for both the leisure and commercial sectors. To fit a digital radio communications system on board a superyacht that does not use these frequencies is, at the very least, irresponsible and at worst, illegal.
Maritime frequencies are selected for their mobility; they can be used the world over, thereby avoiding any clashes with important land-based frequencies. As an example, a nondescript Ugandan frequency may turn out to be the same used for the Bermudan police force's communications, or the communications for Barcelona’s rail network.
Issues arise because the communications systems on board superyachts are so powerful that their disruptions can be far reaching. In this instance, reports concerning the extent of the damage caused by the rogue signal vary, with one source claiming that the disruption caused trains in Barcelona to be halted for an hour-and-a-half, whereas another source claims there was no genuine disruption to local transport. Neither wished to be named.
According to a source, police entered various ports and marinas with warrants demanding that all radio communications be switched off. By turning the systems on one at a time they were able to ascertain which vessel was the cause of the disruption.
It is worth noting again that the vessel in question was impinging upon the law unwittingly. The route of the issue is that the shift from analogue to digital radio communications has come with a litany of educational errors and negligence on the part of certain systems OEMs and suppliers.
It is advisable that any individual overseeing the fitting of a radio communications system on board a superyacht requests written proof of the system’s fixed radio frequencies.