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Inmarsat to launch Fleet Safety

John Dodd, director of safety services at Inmarsat, hopes to change the way we think about GMDSS…

Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) is the communications network and training that underpins safe operations at sea. I am sure that I am not alone in recalling that it is also the driest part of the officer’s training course. The monotonous repetition of radio call signs and reciting of frequencies can feel from another age, and in many ways, it is. In a world of high-speed communication, the latency of some of the messages feel somehow out of touch, and that’s why Inmarsat hope to change the way vessels interact with their GMDSS systems.

 With the official launch to the superyacht sector expected to be in the summer, SuperyachtNews speaks to John Dodd, director of safety services at Inmarsat, ahead of time, to find out a little more about the next generation of safety communication at sea. Fleet Safety is a new GMDSS solution for instant distress alerting over satellites. IMO GMDSS approved in 2018, according to Inmarsat, it offers faster communication between rescue centres, direct chat functions and integration of systems on the yacht’s control centre or bridge, designed to operate with existing FleetBroadband or Fleet One terminals, with the addition of a Maritime Safety Terminal.

John Dodd, director of safety services at Inmarsat

Speaking about his path to Inmarsat, Dodd begins: “After my 15 years in the military, I took a job where I knew I could make a difference within the organisation and within the satellite industry. I was brought in to look at how the GMDSS system can be improved. Inmarsat had an established system that worked well and was in line with what the IMO mandated. But it was time for a change.”

  “Inmarsat C has been the backbone of the GMDSS system for over 30 years. There are over 100,000 terminals at sea, and it is keeping people safe. It does a fantastic job, however, as we said, it’s 30 years old now,” says Dodd.

“We had the baseline for a project for a while, which has now become Fleet Safety & RescueNET,” continues Dodd. “These two systems together, with the yacht side as Fleet Safety and the shoreside as RescueNET, form the new GMDSS within Inmarsat, called MSDS - Maritime Safety Data Systems. The key values we underpinned for the new system were; it must be fast, reliable, resilient, it must be easy to operate, and it must be innovative. So that is what we did. We have created a new Inmarsat maritime safety ecosystem,” says Dodd.

One of the updated features that may simplify the GMDSS bridge procedures is the ability to clarify and control the stream of MSI (Maritime Safety Information) broadcasts, such as meteorological, navigational and search and rescue warning and alerts. These may now be accessed on-demand and downloaded if broadcasts are missed due to the terminal being offline, as in during a refit, or in port, with Dodd elaborating: “As well as being able to store and download, the MSI interface allows you to define a specific navigation or meteorological area, or one particular adjacent area while not another. This also reduces the number of messages that you get through. The entire system runs off a standardised Inmarsat interface, no matter which system the end-user has.”

One of the innovations that feels overdue is the chat function. The latency of communications via the ultra-safe and highly regulated traditional GMDSS system feels jarring on a bridge where coverage is ubiquitous and the world is a WhatsApp away. The Distress Chat function hopes to change this. By creating a distress priority text chat room between the yacht in distress, assisting vessels and Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCC), the MRCC can then include multiple vessels and multiple MRCCs into a Distress Chat. They can also have multiple chat rooms open at the same time for enhanced and faster real-time search and rescue planning, coordination and operations.

Dodd elaborates how this chat system may look in practice: “How do you coordinate once a distress alert has been sent? There are usually multiple rescue centres involved if it's a big incident with multiple vessels. So, we have created an Inmarsat safety service whereby the rescue centre can send a distress signal back to the yacht. Say we want to start a chat session with you, it's like a Skype text chat room. But what that allows the rescue sector to do is invite other rescue centres into that same chat room and all the vessels in the area can all coordinate in real-time.”

The instant messaging system also allows for instant confirmations, which may take up to 4 minutes to receive through traditional GMDSS systems. A length of time can make all the difference in an emergency. “Fleet Safety works on IP,” concludes Dodd “We're developing systems at Inmarsat that builds on the existing proven technology. Learning from the older storing and forwarding low data rate systems and moving these services into the IP age opens up the whole world to GMDSS. The systems and the capabilities are endless.”

 

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