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Inmarsat casts RescueNET as the future of Search and Rescue

While geopolitical tensions ensured that one risk to shipping played out in the full media glare over the summer of 2019, quiet but profound change was being brought to the emergency services that keep around 1.6 million seafarers safe day in, day out. 

{mprestriction ids="1,2"} Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCCs) in Riga, Klaipeda and Sweden’s Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) undertook an exercise in the Baltic Sea over the summer deploying a new Search and Rescue service that will be pivotal in the future of Maritime Safety.

As the emergency services of the seas and oceans, MRCCs come to the aid of seafarers when they need it most; without the services they provide, the oceans would claim countless lives. The ‘Dynamic Mercy 2019’ exercise offered the opportunity to put RescueNET through its paces - the free service offered by Inmarsat for which over 33 countries have already signed up. MRCCs Riga and Klaipeda were amongst the first to adopt this new innovative system.

Inmarsat has been providing maritime safety services for more than 40 years, ensuring that seafarers are able to contact vital emergency services at a push of a button when things go wrong. However, RescueNET represents a significant advance, providing MRCCs and the ships they serve with enhanced messaging capabilities and – where every second counts – reducing the time taken to coordinate a rescue operation.

The RescueNET service comes as an addition to the Global Maritime Distress Safety Service services mandated by International Maritime Organisation (IMO), for which Inmarsat’s latest Fleet Safety service is already approved. As the maritime world’s first fully end to end IP-based safety system, Fleet Safety was approved by IMO last year and is already enhancing GMDSS.

Today, when the Distress button is pressed on a Fleet Safety terminal, the closest MRCC not only receives an alarm showing the vessel’s information, position, course, speed and the Distress type; it prioritises communication between the vessel and MRCC in the satellite network. Furthermore, the MRCC can broadcast the Distress Alert Relay via Inmarsat SafetyNET II direct to vessels operating within a designated area equipped with Inmarsat C, Mini C and Fleet Safety terminals.

Going beyond these capabilities, RescueNET has been developed to reflect technological advances in connectivity, delivering them to users where they matter most. For example, the service includes Distress Chat, a real time (text) chat interface with full Distress priority on the network enabling multiple MRCCs and vessels to communicate ‘live’ during the SAR operation. Information is stored and can be retrieved for post operation analysis.

Other enhancements relate to better use of data: RescueNET offers MRCCs vital access to Inmarsat databases, in order to retrieve vessel contact information that can be invaluable as part of SAR. Again, users can now tap into the Rescue Coordination Centre Database to share information and status data provided by other MRCCs. Attention has also been given to user-friendliness: ResecueNET shows the location of the distress vessel and nearby vessels on an interactive map, while alerts and messages can be downloaded in a pre-formatted report and Excel spreadsheet for operational report creating.

The enhanced functionality was very much in evidence as part of the Dynamic Mercy 2019 exercise, but the Baltic trial was significant for reasons other than its efficient coordination of a range of surface vessels, fixed wing aircraft and helicopters. The exercise took place at the limits of VHF coverage, often requiring the use of MF/HF radio communications between maritime rescue assets and the coordinating RCC.

During the operation, MRCC Klaipeda experienced a loss of VHF and MF/HF communications. However, because MRCC Riga maintained stable communications with the on-scene co-ordinator and participating surface units throughout, RescueNET enabled information to be relayed via the Distress Chat function, so that Klaipeda remained a reliable additional link throughout the exercise.

“The use of Distress chat keeps the operations room quieter and considerably reduces the amount of time MRCC personnel time would have to spend making long phone calls,” comments Vladimirs Sadoha of the Latvian Naval Coast Guard Service MRCC Riga. “The MRCC could quickly list important information, like the casualty description, assisting units, call signs, etc, whereas by phone many terms must be spelt out.”

Distress chat also allows MRCC personnel to retrieve necessary operational information, Mr Sadoha notes: “In a real Search and Rescue event, the RCC could quickly put up a broadcast to vessels in the designated area, asking them to assist, keep a sharp lookout, etc. Distress Chat also enables easier post-event analysis, for an exercise or a real operation.”

With 33 administrations already registered, it will not be long before RescueNET is supporting real world SAR, and there are other practical reasons why uptake is expected to be rapid.

One will be RescueNET’s position within the existing Inmarsat infrastructure: if a Fleet Safety Distress Alert is sent to an MRCC that is off-line, for example, the system will automatically redirect the alert to a geographically defined alternative MRCC. Again, Inmarsat’s Network Operations Centre team receives notification of all distress alerts and monitors MRCC responses: if the alert has not been answered within a specified time, Inmarsat will call the nearest MRCC to request urgent assistance.

Another reason is that, while conventional SAR systems can be very costly to install and maintain, RescueNET does not require any specialised equipment and is effectively free to SAR authorities around the world. {/mprestriction}

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