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Sub-Committee on Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue (NCSR), 7th session, 15-24 January 2020  


The Sub-Committee addresses all aspects of safety of navigation, reliable communications and improved coordination to avoid maritime accidents; and ensuring a quick and efficient response in case of a search and rescue incident.

Amended ship routeing systems approved

The session approved the following ships' routeing measures and referred them to the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) for adoption:

  • an additional two-way route in the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait, in Far North Queensland, Australia, intended to serve also as an associated protective measure for the Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) in the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait. (Australia)
  • amended conditions of use for the two-way route in the TSS "Off Ushant" in order to remove ambiguities and take into account technological developments. (France)

  • harmonized and consolidated ships' routeing systems in Norway ("Off the western coast of Norway", "Off the coast of southern Norway" and "Off the coast of Norway from Vardø to Røst"), each with traffic separation schemes (TSS) and recommended routes, aiming to optimize the effect of the routeing systems and apply them to the same categories of ships. (Norway)

  • amended TSS "Slupska Bank" with the aim of reducing the danger of groundings in the area of shallows detected further east of the existing TSS in and outside the Polish territorial seas, in the southern part of the Baltic Sea. (Poland)

The proposed routeing measures will be forwarded to IMO's Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) for adoption and are expected to be implemented six months thereafter.   

Recognition of Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System

The Sub-Committee recommended the recognition of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS), as a component of the world-wide radio navigation system (WWRNS) and prepared a circular for approval by the MSC.

Performance standards for shipborne QZSS receiver equipment approved

The Sub-Committee approved a draft MSC resolution on Performance standards for shipborne Japanese Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) receiver equipment, for adoption by the MSC.

The Sub-Committee invited Japan to provide further information and detailed data on the system to a future session, with a view to considering its potential recognition as a future component of the WWRNS.

IMO has an important role in accepting and recognizing navigation systems which can be used by international shipping. IMO currently recognizes the Global Positioning System (GPS), Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS), BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) and Galileo Global Navigation Satellite System; and the most recent, the IRNSS mentioned above, is currently awaiting final approval. SOLAS chapter V requires all ships to carry a global navigation satellite system or terrestrial radio navigation receiver, or other means, to establish and update the ship's position by automatic means, for use at all times throughout the voyage.

Revised Guidelines for Vessel Traffic Services agreed

The Sub-Committee finalized the revision of the Guidelines for Vessel Traffic Services to update the version adopted in 1997 (resolution A.857(20)) and referred it to the MSC for approval and subsequent adoption by the Assembly.

Modernizing the global maritime distress and safety system

Search and rescue (SAR) at sea depends on the integrated satellite and terrestrial radiocommunication system known as the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS). The GMDSS is mandatory under the regulations in chapter IV of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), 1974.

The Sub-Committee continued its ongoing work to review the GMDSS requirements, with the aim of enabling the use of modern communication systems in the GMDSS, while removing requirements to carry obsolete systems. Substantial progress was made in revising the relevant regulations in SOLAS chapters III and IV and preparing consequential amendments to other instruments.

The Sub-Committee endorsed an updated work plan, including categorization and prioritization for the review of other instruments related to the amendments to SOLAS chapters III and IV.

The aim is to finalize the work in 2021, for submission to the MSC, so that the amendments can be adopted in time for entry into force in 2024. 

Revised SafetyNET Services Manual approved

The Sub-Committee approved a draft revision of the International SafetyNET Manual, to reflect, among other things, updates to related GMDSS services provided by Inmarsat.

SafetyNET is an integral part of the GMDSS, providing an international automatic direct-printing satellite-based service for the promulgation of maritime safety information (MSI), navigational and meteorological warnings, meteorological forecasts, SAR related information and other urgent safety-related messages to ships.

A draft MSC circular on the IMO Enhanced Group Call (EGC) Coordinating Panel was also approved, for submission to the MSC for approval. The IMO EGC Coordinating Panel, in cooperation with the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the International Mobile Satellite Organization (IMSO), coordinates the international broadcast of MSI and SAR-related information, using recognized mobile satellite services.

Guidance for SAR services regarding aircraft autonomous distress tracking approved

The Sub-Committee approved interim guidance for SAR services regarding implementation of autonomous distress tracking of aircraft in flight, for dissemination as a COMSAR circular. The guidance material is intended to provide basic information on Autonomous Distress Tracking (ADT), which goes into effect 1 January 2021 as part of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System (GADSS). ADT is to provide notification and location of an aircraft in potential distress.

IMO and ICAO hold an annual joint working group meeting on SAR matters. The International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual is published jointly by IMO and ICAO and was also considered at this session.

Polar Code application to  non-SOLAS ships – correspondence group established

IMO's Polar Code helps ensure the safety of ships operating in the harsh Arctic and Antarctic areas, taking into account extremes of temperature, and that critical equipment remains operational under those conditions.

The 31st Assembly in 2019 adopted a resolution urging Member States to implement, on a voluntary basis, the safety measures of the Polar Code, as far as practicable, on non-SOLAS ships operating in the Arctic and Antarctic, including fishing vessels of 24 metres in length and above and pleasure yachts of 300 gross tonnage and above not engaged in trade.

While the Polar Code is mandatory under SOLAS, this generally excludes fishing vessels, pleasure yachts, smaller cargo ships under 500 gross tons and vessels on domestic voyages.  Consideration is now being given to the possible application of chapters 9 (Safety of navigation) and 11 (Voyage planning) of the Polar Code to non-SOLAS ships and how best to enhance the safety of these ships when operating in polar waters.

A correspondence group was established to continue this work intersessionally and report back to NCSR 8 in 2021.

Revision of guidelines on places of refuge

The Sub-Committee considered a proposed revision to the Guidelines on places of refuge for ships in need of assistance, which were adopted in 2003 (resolution A.949(23)) to provide guidance when a ship is in need of assistance but safety of life is not involved (when safety of life is involved, SAR provisions should be followed).

Following initial discussions in a working group, a correspondence group was established to further develop the draft text and consider what issues should be brought to the attention of the Marine Environment Protection and Legal Committees for their consideration and input.

Liaison statements to ITU and CEPT ECC approved

The Sub-Committee agreed to draft liaison statements to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) on revision of recommendation ITU-R M.585-7 on assignment and use of identities in the maritime mobile service, for AMRD Group B using AIS technology; and to the Electronic Communications Committee (ECC) of the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT), on protection of L-band maritime satellite communications.