The Norwegian Coastal Administration is the first in the world to use a new, global satellite-based service for sending maritime emergency and safety messages. The service, Safetycast, is provided by Iridium. It is part of the GMDSS system (Global Maritime Distress and Safety System) and is the first in GMDSS to have coverage across the globe, including the High North.
At the Norwegian Coastal Administration, Norway is responsible for sending navigation warnings to the large sea area known as Navarra XIX. This is indicated in the image below as XIX. However, the Coastal Administration has only reached the areas from Svalbard and northwards by using radio telegraphy (telex).
In a press release, the Norwegian Coastal Administration refers to telex as outdated technology with poor functionality, compared with modern satellite systems. According to Store Norske Leksikon, the ordinary telex service was discontinued in Norway on 1 July 2000 – ie more than 20 years ago.
– The introduction of Safetycast is a milestone for maritime security in the High North. For the first time, we can now send emergency and safety messages to polar regions using satellites. This means that we can be absolutely sure that vessels sailing in the High North will receive important warnings about dangers for navigation and traffic, says director of Navigation Technology and maritime services at the Norwegian Coastal Administration, Arve Dimmen, in the press release.
The Norwegian Coastal Administration says that there have been challenges with communication in the northern areas due to large distances and because the range of the radio connection is affected by the weather conditions. The introduction of satellite-based services will help reduce these challenges.
Tested together with the Coast Guard
At the same time, emergency communication in the north has been strengthened by the establishment of more radio transmitters, so that it is now possible for the Main Rescue Center and the coastal radio stations to have two-way voice communication with both distressed and rescue resources located in these areas.
When it comes to Safetycast, the Norwegian Coastal Administration was the first agency in the world to become operational on 1 January. The Norwegian Coastal Administration’s maritime traffic center in Vardø is responsible for sending out navigation warnings to Norwegian coastal and sea areas.
Sjøtrafikksentralen has tested the service since May 2020, among other things in collaboration with the coastguard ship Svalbard.
It is unclear when other countries may follow suit.
– Some countries have started with test shipments, while other countries are still in the planning phase. It is therefore difficult to estimate when we have a globally comprehensive emergency and security service on Iridium Safetycast. Hopefully, a lot will be in place by the end of 2021, says Trond Ski, senior adviser at the Norwegian Coastal Administration.
Ski leads the panel of the United Nations Maritime Organization (IMO), which coordinates the use of satellite services in GMDSS.