The Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) is a set of protocols, equipment, and communications systems designed to ensure that if a ship is in distress, aid can be dispatched from anywhere in the world. Under the International Convention of the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), all ships over 300 gross tonnage on international voyages must carry specified radio-communications equipment, both satellite and terrestrial, for sending and receiving distress and safety communications.
In May 2018, the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) officially recognized Iridium as a provider of GMDSS services. This was a significant achievement as the recognition ended a decades-long monopoly and will allow for coverage where none existed before, including Arctic and Antarctic waters in Sea Area A4.
Less than a year later, Iridium announced the signing of a Public Services Agreement (PSA) with the International Mobile Satellite Organization (IMSO) detailing the conditions for IMSO to act as a regulator and maintain oversite of Iridium GMDSS services. The signing of this agreement led to issuing Iridium a Letter of Compliance in January 2020, stating that the company is ready to begin providing its GMDSS service.
For the first time, Iridium will bring competition and truly global coverage to mariners sailing any of the world’s oceans. As Iridium works with its partners to develop GMDSS solutions, the new competition is expected to drive supplier diversity and reduce the costs of shipboard equipment.
Since IMO recognition to provide GMDSS solutions was secured, Iridium has been focused on efforts to implement the service. Currently, experienced, best-in-class manufacturing teams are developing and eventually will be testing new GMDSS hardware for use on the Iridium system.
Expected to launch in the first half of 2020, Iridium GMDSS services with improved Search & Rescue (SAR) functionalities will be available through a single, small-form-factor maritime terminal. The Iridium Connected GMDSS device developed by Lars Thrane LT-3100S will integrate all three satellite GMDSS services at what is expected to be a fraction of the existing cost of competitive options, and it will be the first solution to offer truly global GMDSS services.
The existing Iridium Certus maritime terminals, Cobham SAILOR 4300 and Thales VesseLINK, are GMDSS-compatible. These terminals will require supplemental below-deck hardware from their manufacturers to enable Iridium GMDSS services.
Developed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in the 1970s in response to numerous maritime disasters (including the Titanic’s sinking years earlier), the full implementation of the GMDSS took place in February 1999 and redefined how distress communications were sent. For the first time, ships far from land were able to send alerts directly to shore, rather than just to other ships, allowing shore-based facilities to take responsibility for coordinating necessary rescue efforts. In addition to improving ship distress communications, GMDSS also provided for the automatic broadcast of Maritime Safety Information (MSI), allowing ships to navigate the waters more safely.
Today, the GMDSS is an integrated communications system that helps ensure that ships in distress do not disappear at sea, saving the lives of countless mariners. Under GMDSS requirements, all ships are required to be equipped with a variety of communications instruments, including satellite terminals, satellite emergency position-indicating radiobeacons (EPIRBs), and NAVTEX receivers, to automatically receive shipping safety information.
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