Vessel safety comes a step closer

Sep 01 2014


Inmarsat has announced details of its forthcoming Maritime Safety Data Service (MSDS) for Fleet Broadband.

MSDS will continue to offer all the Inmarsat C safety services, such as distress alerting, priority messaging and SafetyNET safety information broadcasts, Inmarsat stressed at a recent presentation.

However, in addition it will offer what it claims are content-rich applications; chart updates; the ability to co-ordinate rescue operations by e-mail, as well as voice calls; telemedicine; distress chat, an instantaneous chatroom function between multiple vessels and maritime rescue co-ordination centres and a new style maritime safety terminal (MST).

MSDS will be operational over the Inmarsat-4 satellite network, used by FleetBroadband and also including the Alphasat satellite launched last year.

“We are currently working closely with the IMO to bring our new service to market with the aim of eventually gaining SOLAS approval for both FleetBroadband data and voice Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) services,” said Peter Blackhurst, recently retired head of Maritime Safety Services at Inmarsat.

Papers are due to be lodged with the IMO later this year with the aim of discussing the new service at the second Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue (NCSR) sub-committee meeting in March, 2015. NCSR is a new IMO sub-committee, formed by merging the NAV and COMSAR sub-committees this year.

MSDS additional capabilities have been developed by data software company, Eixo Digital, which will also be designing a generic maritime safety terminal (MST) in conjunction with GateHouse, a software solutions provider.

A prototype is expected to be available later this year and a ready-to-market terminal is planned for the second quarter of 2015.

This initiative has received funding from the European Space Agency (ESA), which has also awarded a contract to Inmarsat partner Cobham SATCOM to develop an MST delivering the MSDS service, which is expected next year.

Inmarsat said that all information accessed over MSDS and Inmarsat C will now be housed on two new maritime safety servers located in London, UK, and Burum, the Netherlands, which will be the core to the whole safety operation.

They are connected to all BGAN networks for both voice and data transfer and can reach all Inmarsat C fitted vessels and have the ability to expand. They are the network operations centres for ongoing distress calls, which will also be sent to the relevant rescue co-ordination centres (RCCs).

MSDS will build upon FleetBroadband’s two non-SOLAS voice safety services: the free 505 Emergency Calling facility, and Voice Distress.

The launch date for MSDS is subject to the IMO approval process for SOLAS ships but Inmarsat anticipated that non-SOLAS versions will be available well in advance.

“Everything comes to its life’s end and, while the Inmarsat C service is still very competent and it will continue well into the 2020s and beyond, despite being over 20 years old, (we) would ultimately like to see MSDS accepted as the natural successor to deliver SafetyNET,” said Blackhurst.

At the same presentation, Cobham outlined its user terminal (UT) development for the FleetBroadband MSDS.

Tests were undertaken on the MST ad UT both for non-SOLAS and for SOLAS vessels. They were carried out on an office PC and a Sailor FB 500 UT was upgraded to support the MSDS protocols. The project was completed in August 2013.

For SOLAS MST and UT, the solution will be based on existing commercial products, Cobham said, using proven hardware for the maritime environment with environment, safety and national approvals available.

The MST application will be developed to operate on the already Wheelmark approved messaging terminal.

For the MSDS, MST and UT testing has been completed. For SOLAS vessels, this depends on the MSDS’ IMO approval being given. The RAN upgrade to support MSDS has also been completed, while the maritime safety server has been delivered and deployed.

GateHouse said commercially off-the-shelf prototype software would be ready by the fourth quarter of this year, which will plug into a GateHouse enabled UT for both SOLAS and non-SOLAS vessels.

Explaining the use of Eixo Digital’s MST, the company said that it had a deep understanding of the MSDS service and had developed the ground infrastructure, which is MST type approved.

The hardware was developed quickly and the time taken to deliver it to market was also claimed to be fast and at an affordable price with very attractive conditions available for early adopters.

With Alphabus, Europe now has the opportunity to offer satellites meeting global high power telecommunications needs and to boost Inmarsat’s overall network capacity. The satellite concern is claimed to be an example of a successful private/public partnership between ESA and a leading operator.

The next phase of MSDS development includes- enhanced security (LRIT, AIS), enavigation, while future applications will include anti-piracy and border control functions.

All of the new services are based on BGAN technology.

Guy Sear, Inmarsat Maritime’s vice president business development said that the organisation was looking for other stakeholders in the industry, such as weather routing concerns. With the latest IP technology, Inmarsat can take it to the next level by integration with interests, such as charterers and cargo owners, etc, he explained.

It is just a matter of understanding and managing what is available, he said. He gave further examples of dealing with supply chains and for functions, such as route planning, dealing with pollution and obtaining piracy activity information. Other sectors, such as insurers, P&I Clubs can be instantly informed, as and when necessary. Master and crew information can also be made available.

Iridium GMDSS

Meanwhile, Iridium Communications said that its application to IMO to provide GMDSS mobile satellite communications has been reviewed by the NCSR sub-committee and the application will now proceed to the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) at its next meeting in November, before advancing to a group of experts for comprehensive technical and operational evaluation.

At NCSR, delegates gave support for the US position to advance Iridium's application to the next stage for evaluation. Final approval will be up to the MSC, following review of the experts' report by NCSR, which is expected by mid-2016.

"This is a victory for Iridium and the maritime industry," said Matt Desch, CEO, Iridium. "The overwhelming support for our application to provide the industry an alternative and equally capable option for GMDSS services is a testament to the value and benefit the Iridium network can provide to maritime safety."

This is particularly important for coverage of Polar regions, where the incumbent GMDSS provider is not able to provide a service, the company said, without naming Inmarsat.

Iridium's constellation of 66 low-Earth orbit, inter-connected satellites operates as a fullymeshed network and provides coverage worldwide - including Polar regions – where demand for reliable voice and data communications is on the rise, the company said.

Iridium will begin deploying its second generation constellation (Iridium NEXT), in 2015, offering greater capacity, bandwidth and data speeds, as well as backwards compatibility for existing products and services in the market.

In anticipation of IMO recognition, Iridium said that it was working with maritime communications equipment manufacturers for the production and certification of GMDSS terminals that use its network, along with maritime RCCs and service providers for the provision of maritime safety communications.

Once approved, the shipboard terminals will meet both the GMDSS and operational communications needs of a vessel, giving the industry the option of a single, affordable communications terminal to satisfy both safety and business communications, wherever they operate.

Expected to be available before the end of 2015, GMDSS terminals using the Iridium network are designed to have an operational longevity of nearly 20 years, eliminating the need for vessel owners and operators to purchase new equipment every few years, the company claimed.



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