Iridium has announced the launch of the world’s first, truly global maritime emergency service. The Iridium GMDSS service gives seafarers a real-time emergency response and rescue service that works everywhere in the world.
Iridium’s GDMSS service includes a real-time emergency voice calling service, SOS button, and maritime safety information with Iridium’s unmatched truly global coverage. No other maritime emergency response system matches the coverage and real-time communications capability of the Iridium GMDSS service.
Iridium’s GMDSS service is built on the company’s upgraded $3 billion satellite network, completed in 2019, and utilizes the company’s valuable L-band satellite spectrum. This spectrum serves as a weather-resilient complement to other satellite broadband capabilities on ships, aircraft and vehicles and is also a requirement for GMDSS terminals on SOLAS-class vessels. With over 1.4 million subscribers around the world, including communications systems on tens of thousands of ships and aircraft today, Iridium’s GMDSS service launch epitomizes the company’s commitment and tradition of creating a safer environment for the approximately 85% of the world that lacks any or reliable cell phone coverage.
“This is a historic moment in both the satellite and maritime industries,” said Matt Desch, CEO of Iridium. “It is not every day that you get to announce the launch of a service that will most certainly save lives and is bringing innovation to this important maritime service.”
IMO Director of Maritime Safety Heike Deggim shared, “On behalf of the International Maritime Organization, I extend my sincere congratulations to Iridium for announcing the formal launch of its GMDSS services.”
Captain Moin Ahmed, Director General of IMSO, regulator of the GMDSS system, provided some additional context regarding the qualification process for Iridium noting, “Overall, our formal evaluation of Iridium took more than four years, and at each step Iridium successfully demonstrated that its Safety Voice, Distress Alert and Iridium SafetyCastSM maritime environment broadcasts not only met all IMO requirements but in many cases exceeded them. I am proud to be a part of this event and this historic moment.”
Master Mariner and Senior Marine Specialist for MAERSK Captain Brian Soberg Petersen shared his experience as part of the testing process and stated, “At Maersk, we have been very satisfied with the capabilities of the Iridium system and are presently analyzing our future communications plans, where we believe Iridium GMDSS could serve an additional function as a backup data connection as well, in lieu of our existing system.”
Speaking from the Rescue Coordination Center perspective, Watch Leader and Senior Search and Rescue Officer for RCC New Zealand Dave Wilson spoke towards their experience with the new system; “Having played a significant role in the developmental testing of the Iridium GMDSS, both from shore-to-ship and the ship-to-shore pathways, this new system is the type of technological advancement that will enhance GMDSS. Our team at the Rescue Coordination Center of New Zealand, and the crew of the New Zealand research vessel that has been assisting with the testing, have been very impressed with the Iridium GMDSS system.”
As the successor to safety measures originally established after the sinking of the RMS Titanic, the technological capabilities of the GMDSS have now reached a new pinnacle with voice, data, and maritime safety information (MSI) all available through one affordable terminal. The first terminal available is the Lars Thrane LT-3100S, which combines the three key GMDSS services – distress alert, distress voice and MSI. It can be used for both primary and emergency ship communications. The combination of all three services in one cost-effective terminal is a first for the industry and one that makes the GMDSS even more accessible to smaller vessels that may not otherwise be able to afford the equipment.
Desch continued, “When we started this process, there was no process. No company had ever tried to do what we have now achieved. In partnership with the IMO, U.S. Coast Guard and IMSO, a system to allow for Iridium to provide GMDSS service had to be invented.”
“Developing and qualifying a GMDSS system was extremely challenging, so we didn’t want to just do the minimum or what has been done before. We wanted to make our system more accessible, affordable and feature-rich,” Desch stated.
Here’s how it works, once a vessel holds down the red ‘distress’ button, indicating that it needs assistance, a signal is immediately routed through the Iridium satellite network and delivered in moments to a designated Rescue Coordination Center (RCC). Unique to the Iridium system, this is then followed automatically by a distress phone call, allowing the vessel to immediately speak with the RCC. The RCC then can quickly understand the nature of the emergency, while also alerting nearby vessels and local search and rescue authorities to provide the required immediate assistance.
Iridium started the process to become a GMDSS service provider in 2013 and had to meet several objectives before formally ending what was a decades-long monopoly held by another satellite company. After being recognized by the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee to provide GMDSS service, Iridium has worked closely with its regulator, IMSO, to meet all conditions required for service introduction. Aside from technical integrations around the world, this has included the signing of a Public Services Agreement with IMSO in April of 2019, which details the conditions for IMSO to act as regulator and maintain oversight of Iridium’s GMDSS services and a Letter of Compliance in December 2019 stating that Iridium was authorized to begin providing service when ready.
Hassin, J. (2020, December 15). World’s First Truly Global, Real-Time Maritime Emergency Service Launched by Iridium. Retrieved December 23, 2020, from https://investor.iridium.com/2020-12-15-Worlds-First-Truly-Global-Real-Time-Maritime-Emergency-Service-Launched-by-Iridium