Since its establishment in 1959, IMO and its Member Governments, in close co-operation with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and other international organizations, notably the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), the International Mobile Satellite Organization (IMSO) and the Cospas-Sarsat partners, have striven to improve maritime distress and safety radiocommunications, as well as general radiocommunications for operational and personal purposes.


Ship radiocommunications entered a new era on 1 February 1999 with the full implementation of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS); an integrated communications system using satellite and terrestrial radiocommunication systems.    

Under the GMDSS, all passenger ships and all cargo ships over 300 gross tonnage on international voyages have to carry specified terrestrial and satellite radiocommunications equipment for sending and receiving distress alerts and maritime safety information, as well as for general communications. The regulations governing the GMDSS are contained in Chapter IV of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), 1974.

The IMO Publication 'GMDSS Manual, 2009 edition' provides further detailed information.


Possible review of the elements and procedures of the GMDSS

The Sub-Committee on Radiocommunications and Search and Rescue (COMSAR) is currently undertaking a Scoping exercise to establish the need for a review of the elements and procedures of the GMDSS. The COMSAR Sub-Committee was instructed to study how any review of the elements and procedures of the GMDSS may be implemented and further advise on the shape, size and structure of this review. The COMSAR Sub-Committee is expected to report to the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) in 2012, after which the Committee will decide on the way forward.


Review of all maritime safety information documents

A Working Group of the IHO World-Wide Navigational Warning Service Sub-Committee is currently reviewing all maritime safety information documents from the top-down. It firstly prepared revisions to IMO resolutions A.705(17), “Promulgation of Maritime Safety Information” and A.706(17), “World-Wide Navigational Warning Service”, which were  approved by the Maritime Safety Committee at its eighty-fifth session (MSC 85) in November/December 2008.


Accordingly, the Working Group prepared the revised Joint IMO/IHO/WMO Manual on Maritime Safety Information, approved by MSC 86 in May/June 2009 and the revision of the International SafetyNET Manual, approved by MSC 87 in May 2010.


The Working Group has recently prepared the fifth revision of the International NAVTEX Manual. The revised text of the International NAVTEX Manual will be considered by the COMSAR Sub-Committee at its 15th session, from 7 to 11 March 2011 and accordingly by MSC 89, from 11 to 20 May 2011.