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The Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS)
Since the introduction of Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) in 1992, the way in which a message from a ship in distress was sent had changed very little from those early days; namely, a radio operator sending a message by morse code or radiotelephone and hoping that another ship (or shore base station if within range) would hear the call and respond.
The system allows search and rescue authorities ashore, as well as shipping in the vicinity of the ship in distress to be rapidly alerted to a distress incident so that they can assist in a co-ordinated search and rescue operation with the minimum of delay.
The Solar Convention
The main objective of the SOLAS Convention is to specify minimum standards for the construction, equipment and operation of ships. Flag States (i.e. those states who have signed the Convention) are responsible for ensuring that ships under their flag comply with the SOLAS Convention’s requirements.
Chapter IV of the Convention mandates the equipping of eligible vessels with GMDSS equipment. It also requires that Flag States provide GMDSS shore-based infrastructure (i.e., Coast Radio Stations) from February 1, 1999.
PNG is a signatory to the SOLAS Convention
This basic lack of GMDSS and SAR area radio coverage is a critical safety deficiency. The problem is especially serious given the plethora of small craft operating in PNG waters - such vessels rely on radio services from Port Moresby Radio to summon help in an emergency.
In 2008 NMSA, recognizing the urgent need to implement GMDSS in PNG, engaged a consultant to conduct a design study and produce a technical specification suitable for inclusion in a tender.
The design study made a number of recommendations regarding equipment and sustainability. These most critical are summarized below.
It is essential that the system is introduced in a planned and structured manner. The design study identified 5 components to be included in the project, these are summarized in the table below.
Component 1 - is actual upgrade to the Coast Radio Station. The Coast Radio Station comprises 3 sites – the transmitting station, located at Boera Village, site is owned by Telikom (PNG) Limited (on the coast NW of Moresby), the receiving station behind Jackson’s Airport and the operations centre, in the Telikom complex at 5 mile.
All of these sites will be upgraded.
Component 2 - involves an upgrade to the NMSA Rescue Coordination Centre – new computer systems and equipment for monitoring GMDSS broadcasts.
Component 3 - is an upgrade to the GMDSS training equipment at PNG’s maritime college at Madang. This component also involves train-the-trainer courses to endure that the lecturers are up to date with the latest GMDSS techniques and procedures.
Component 4 - provides GMDSS training for the Coast Station staff and also refresher training for NMSA’s Marine Radio Surveyors, who inspect marine radio equipment on PNG ships.
Component 5 - involves re write of PNG’s marine radio legislation to introduce GMDSS requirements and also the conduct of an industry stakeholder workshop to publicize the changes.