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Sub-Committee on Radiocommunications and Search and Rescue (COMSAR) – 16th session, 12 - 16 March 2012

March 16, 2012

A draft timetable to bring the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) up to date, to allow modern technologies to be incorporated into the system, to enhance and improve safety of life at sea, was agreed by the Sub-Committee on Radiocommunications and Search and Rescue (COMSAR) when it met for its 16th session. The draft work plan, including the timetable, for the "Revision and modernization of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System" will be submitted to the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC 90) for approval. 
Evolving technology will continue to drive change in the maritime communications system.  The Sub-Committee agreed on the many reasons for a review, including the fact that the GMDSS – which was adopted by means of amendment’s to SOLAS in 1988 and fully implemented by 1999 – needs to be modernized to include new technologies, otherwise ship operators may find themselves carrying obsolete equipment for the sole purpose of meeting a SOLAS requirement.  The benefits that are expected to emerge include enhancement of safety and security in general, and navigation safety in particular, environmental protection and general communications for the industry.
The plan envisages a fully comprehensive review  of the GMDSS requirements, contained in SOLAS Chapter IV (Radiocommunications), to take place over a three-year period  (2013–2015), followed by  a further two-year period (2015-2017) for the GMDSS modernization plan, to be succeeded by the development of legal instruments, revision/development of relevant performance standards and an implementation period. 
A correspondence group was set up to begin the review of the GMDSS, after the approval of the Work Plan by the Maritime Safety Committee.
Under the current SOLAS chapter IV, incorporating the GMDSS requirements, all passenger ships and all cargo ships of 300 gross tonnage and upwards on international voyages are required to carry equipment designed to improve the chances of rescue following an accident, including satellite emergency position indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs) and search and rescue transponders (SARTs) for the location of the ship or survival craft. Regulations in Chapter IV cover undertakings by contracting governments to provide radiocommunications services as well as ship requirements for carriage of radiocommunications equipment. The Chapter is closely linked to the Radio Regulations of the International Telecommunication Union.
Guidance to prospective GMDSS satellite service providers agreed
The Sub-committee agreed a draft MSC circular on Guidance to prospective GMDSS satellite service providers, for approval by the MSC. The guidance provides additional information to complement that provided in resolution A.1001(25) Criteria for the provision of mobile satellite communication systems in the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS).
E-navigation strategy - gaps identified
The Sub-Committee progressed its work in relation to the development of an e-navigation strategy implementation plan and agreed a final draft list of gaps which are relevant to radiocommunications and search and rescue, for the benefit of the work of the Sub-Committee on Standards of Training and Watchkeeping (STW 43), for further revision of the total list of identified gaps from the training perspective, and the Sub-Committee on Safety of Navigation (NAV 58), for final consideration. 
The gap analysis identifies areas which the e-navigation strategy should address, for example the possible lack of bandwidth and unclear assignment of adequate bandwidth for potential e-navigation communication needs.
E-navigation is the harmonized collection, integration, exchange, presentation and analysis of marine information on board and ashore by electronic means to enhance berth to berth navigation and related services for safety and security at sea and protection of the marine environment. 
LRIT status update
The Sub-Committee was updated on the status of the long-range identification and tracking of ships (LRIT) system. As of 9 March 2012, 97 of 161 SOLAS Contracting Governments, including 10 non metropolitan territories and two special administrative regions, were part of the LRIT system and 66 Data Centres (DCs) were operating in the system. 
The transfer of operations of the International LRIT Data Exchange from the United States to the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) had been completed on 18 October 2011. EMSA had established a primary and a secondary IDE site (the first hosted at EMSA headquarters, in Lisbon, Portugal and the second at EMSA's Business Continuity Facility in Porto, Portugal).  The United States had established the disaster recovery site of the IDE (hosted at the United States Coast Guard Operations System Center (OSC)) and would continue providing Domain Name Service (DNS) management for the IDE (
The Sub-Committee noted with appreciation the financial support offered by Canada to some African developing countries to help them to fulfil their LRIT obligations and that some African countries had already joined or were in the process of joining the South Africa National Data Centre (NDC).
Following discussion of a number of technical and other issues relating to the LRIT system, the Sub-Committee agreed the following for submission to the MSC for approval:
• draft amendments to the Revised performance standards and functional requirements for the long-range identification and tracking of ships  (resolution MSC.263(84);

• draft amendments to the LRIT Technical documentation (Parts I and II) MSC.1/Circ.1259/Rev.4 and MSC.1/Circ.1294/Rev.2), including the additional draft amendments to be implemented during a future modification testing phase of the LRIT system;

• draft amendments to the Continuity of service plan for the LRIT system (MSC.1/Circ.1376);

• a draft MSC resolution amending resolution MSC.298(87) on Establishment of a Distribution Facility;

• a draft COMSAR circular listing the audits conducted so far by the LRIT Coordinator; and

• a draft MSC circular on Principles and guidelines relating to the review and audit of the performance of LRIT Data Centres and of the International LRIT Data Exchange.

The Sub-Committee agreed that there was a need for the preparation of guidance for coastal States and port States on use of the LRIT system and invited Member Governments and international organizations to submit comments and proposals to COMSAR 17.
Amendments to IAMSAR Manual agreed
The Sub-Committee endorsed draft amendments to the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual, which is jointly published by IMO and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), for approval by the MSC for inclusion in the 2013 edition of the Manual, which will incorporate the 2011 and 2012 amendments.
The 2012 draft amendments include those relating to inclusion of reference to  Long-range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) system; updates to the section on cold water survival including information on personal factors that can influence survival time in cold water; updated maps;  new section on Communications planning for Mass Rescue Operations (MROs); action to be taken by a Rescue coordination Centre (RCC) on receiving  covert alerts to shore for vessel security incidents involving acts of violence against ships (that is, piracy, armed robbery against ships or any other security incident directed against a ship); suggested format for alert information from a commercial locating, tracking and emergency notification service provider to an RCC; updates to examples of action cards for man overboard situations, MEDEVAC, basic communication plan structure  and on scene coordination.
Guidance on smart phones agreed
The Sub-Committee agreed a draft COMSAR circular on Guidance on Smartphone and Other Computer Devices, for approval by the MSC. The circular notes that applications for "Smart Phones" and other computer devices have been developed and are available for download that relate to Search and Rescue (SAR).  Such applications offer users a facility to raise a SAR alert. However, there are potential safety concerns about the use of such applications where the application relies on e-mail as a form of notification.
Administrations are advised to contact the sponsor/owner of the SAR application and request removal of their country from the application and any advertising material including websites that list regions that receive email alerts. It is also recommended that Administrations review the arrangements they have with any other providers to ensure that their search and rescue operational requirements are adequately addressed.

Social media and distress notification
The Sub-Committee noted a submission which commented on an expectation by the general public that SAR authorities monitor their well-being during an emergency and the need for the development of guidance for SAR authorities in case social media was being used for distress alerting. The Sub-Committee invited the ICAO/IMO Joint Working Group to develop guidance and information on the use of social media for SAR alerting and the expectation that it would not be monitored as a primary means of distress notification, for incorporation into the 2016 edition of the IAMSAR Manual.
Revised Guide for cold water survival agreed
The Sub-Committee agreed the revised and updated Guide for cold water survival, for approval by the MSC.  
Progress in establishing Central America MRCCs
The Sub-Committee noted progress made in the development of a technical co-operation project aimed at the establishment of search and rescue coordination centres in Central America. 
Two meetings at IMO Headquarters had been held, with representatives from the seven Central America countries (Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama) and IMO assessment missions had been undertaken by SAR specialists from Chile in December 2011. A SAR regional meeting on the development of a multilateral agreement for the Central American region was held in Panama City, Panama, on 8 and 9 February 2012.  A second Regional meeting is provisionally scheduled to take place in October 2012.
Liaison with ITU
The Sub Committee approved liaison statements to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU-R Working Party 5B) on Work Plan adopted for revision of Recommendation ITU-R M.493 13; Regarding Recommendation ITU-R M.493-13; and Use of the frequency range 9200–9500 MHz for maritime radionavigation.