Fleet Safety To Modernize Maritime Distress Communication

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May 26, 2022

By Peter Broadhurst, Senior Vice President of Safety and Cyber Security, Inmarsat Maritime

As the successor to Inmarsat’s industry-leading maritime safety service, Inmarsat C, Fleet Safety will facilitate a more proactive approach to distress communication based on unparalleled performance, advanced functionality, and an intuitive user interface.

Marine safety is part of Inmarsat’s DNA. The company was founded in 1979 by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to establish a satellite communications network for protecting the lives of seafarers. With the launch of Inmarsat C in 1991, it became the first satellite operator to meet the stringent requirements of the IMO’s Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) – a set of marine safety procedures that Inmarsat helped to define – for ship security alert systems (SSASs).

To this day, Inmarsat C forms the backbone of the GMDSS. With over 100,000 terminals at sea, it has been safeguarding the lives of mariners for over 30 years. However, like safety, innovation is central to Inmarsat’s identity, and the company has also spearheaded steps to bring distress communication services into the digital era of shipping.

Marking a turning point for the way satellite communications ensure the preservation of life at sea, Inmarsat’s forthcoming maritime safety service, Fleet Safety, will offer unmatched speed and reliability, advanced functionality, and an intuitive user interface.

Since there can be no shortcuts in developing a solution dedicated to the protection of seafarers, Fleet Safety has been several years in the making. Planning began in 2015, and the IMO granted GMDSS approval in 2018. With its launch now imminent, Fleet Safety has passed initial sea trials and is in the process of securing wheelmark certification.

The solution will be delivered via a combination of a Maritime Safety Terminal and existing FleetBroadband or Fleet One data services, with the supporting satellite connectivity providing high speeds, global coverage, and 99.9% global network availability. 

In addition, Fleet Safety’s new user interface will optimise usability, making it easier for seafarers to navigate the system, access critical functionality, and communicate with maritime rescue coordination centres (MRCCs) in an emergency. A network of over 50 global MRCCs will be available to contact, by voice or instant messaging, at the touch of a button.

Alongside the updated design and improved accessibility, two value-added features will set Fleet Safety apart from existing SSASs: an innovative Maritime Safety Information (MSI) interface and a Distress Chat function.

Fleet Safety’s MSI feature will allow users to clarify and control the stream of MSI broadcasts, which include meteorological, navigational, and search-and-rescue warnings, based on a standardised Inmarsat interface. By defining a specific meteorological or navigational area, users can reduce the volume of incoming broadcasts to ensure they only receive messages that are relevant to their operations. Moreover, broadcasts can be accessed on demand and downloaded even if the terminal is offline.

The Distress Chat capability will enable the creation of chat rooms between ships in distress, assisting vessels, and MRCCs. Users can have several chat rooms open at once to support real-time search-and-rescue planning, coordination, and execution with multiple parties. Confirmation messages, which can take up to four minutes to arrive through a traditional SSAS, are delivered instantly, and rescue authorities can track the stricken vessel’s location in real time.

Given the range of innovative functionality and features available to Fleet Safety users, Inmarsat has invested considerable time and resources in training seafarers to extract the solution’s full potential. More than simply teaching them how the system works, this means educating vessel crew in the importance of a proactive approach to maritime distress communications.

In a precarious situation, notifying rescue authorities early can prove pivotal in saving the ship and, more importantly, the lives of the crew on board. Seafarers will generally do their utmost to rectify an issue before requesting assistance, but Inmarsat is encouraging and – through Fleet Safety – facilitating a culture where vessel personnel report situations they are struggling to manage rather than those already beyond their control.

In the years ahead, the Internet of Things and onboard sensors will elevate proactive maritime safety communications to new levels, allowing any anomalies in vessel machinery or systems to be reported automatically to MRCCs. The technology to support this exists today, and the processes involved can be implemented using relatively simple logic.

Through digitalisation, the shipping industry has the opportunity to simplify and optimise how incidents at sea are communicated and managed. Inmarsat’s Fleet Safety offers the tools for seizing that opportunity and, in doing so, provides a safer working environment for the 1.6 million seafarers who help keep the wheels of global trade in motion. 

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