The Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) was adopted in 1988 as part of the process amending the 1974 Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS). It was fully implemented in 1999. Since its inception, it has served the interests of the maritime community efficiently but some of the technologies on which it relies need modernising. In its current configuration, GMDSS guarantees that, wherever a ship in distress might be, its call will be heard and a response given. The system is supported by an exclusive combination of international technical and operational standards and recommendations. It is based on the coordinated and global use of certain frequencies, operating at sea and on shore.
Since the system became operational, Inmarsat has been the sole provider of satellite communications within GMDSS, with coverage limited to between latitudes 70° North and 70° South. The modernisation plan now under consideration includes the introduction of satellite constellations with polar coverage, Iridium for example. The new satellite cover will have the capacity to replace the now obsolete HF radiotelex (NBDP). Maritime HF frequency bands will remain in GMDSS to serve as backup or a complement (redundancy) to satellites. Ships not using an approved satellite mobile communications service will still be able to fall back on the HF option. The decametric waves (HF) will also be available in the A3 sea area as a secondary alert system for ships using an approved mobile satellite communications service.
NAVDAT is a French maritime digital data broadcasting system that the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has decided to integrate into GMDSS. NAVDAT operates in FM and HF. It will eventually replace NAVTEX, the equivalent analogue system that has been on the scene for over 30 years, which is reliable but has limited capacity. For a modern GMDSS, there has to be an upgraded capacity for receiving maritime safety information (MSI) via HF which is easier to process on board ship and thereby provides shore-based entities with a more flexible array of MSI distribution options. As a result, future receivers will have to combine NAVTEX/NAVDAT capabilities enabling the reception of messages in the 490, 500 and 518 kHz bands as well as in all the decametric wave ranges designated for MSI. The possibility should also be examined of using the VHF Data Exchange System (VDES) to carry the future MSI distribution systems now under consideration.
VDES was developed by the International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities (IALA) when the Automatic Identification System (AIS) VHF digital link (VDL) first showed signs of overloading. VDES will no doubt facilitate a great many applications related to, in particular, navigational safety and security, or to the protection of the marine environment and the efficiency of maritime transport. In future, VDES should be able to contribute significantly to maritime information services, including navigational aids. It could possibly supply local MSI. WRC-15 has validated the terrestrial component of the VDES system and WRC-19 will be taking decisions on the satellite component. From then onwards, VDES will become a fully comprehensive data exchange system compatible with the VHF channel already aboard ships. VHF satellite service would be a less costly alternative to the options provided by bands already assigned to satellite mobile services in the L band. The French space industry (Airbus and Thalès for instance) and CNES have expressed interest in this satellite-based alternative. One of the challenges facing the maritime transport community by 2025 is the use of e-navigation, a concept developed by IMO whose Mona Lisa and Efficiensea projects were precursors in this field. The purpose of e-navigation is to merge all the shipborne radiocommunication systems into a single smooth and reliable navigation entity. VDES is a prime candidate for integration into e-navigation. Lastly, AIS technology, initially conceived as simply a means of ship identification, has branched out into many other applications: monitoring pollution slicks and the drift of sea ice, tagging drifting fishing nets, tracking floating objects, seismic studies, research on ocean currents and climatology, search and rescue of crews overboard.
ANFR will support the entry of new satellite systems supplying GMDSS services at WRC-19 and will seek to achieve final approval of HF MSI broadcasting for NAVDAT.
ANFR will continue to support the introduction of VDES in international negotiations and, in particular, in consultation with IALA, will carry on with the technical studies for recognition at WRC-19 of the VDES satellite component.
ANFR will support French industrialists developing HF applications with a view to helping them in their efforts to achieve harmonised global deployment whilst complying with IMO and ITU rulings.
As regards AIS technology and its new maritime applications to be discussed at WRC-19, ANFR will remain attentive to the concerns of French industry.