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Universal Service Fund launches maritime distress and safety system

Universal Service Fund launches maritime distress and safety system


The Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) was officially commissioned here on Tuesday.{{more}}

Under the GMDSS, all cargo ships of 300 gross registered tonnes and more and all passenger ships engaged in international voyages must be equipped with the radio device as set out in the international maritime standards.

Kyron Duncan, Universal Service Fund (USF) administrator, explained that ships fitted with the device are safer at sea and more likely to receive assistance in the event of a distress.

“The GMDSS provides for automatic distress alerting and locating when ship’s staff do not have the time to send out a full distress call,” he explained.

He added that the device also allows ships to receive broadcasts of maritime safety information which, could prevent a distress from happening.

“The basic concept of this system is that the Coastguard, as well as vessels in the immediate area of a ship in distress, will be rapidly alerted to the emergency so that they can assist with minimum delay time,” Duncan explained.

He further explained the significance of the project, saying that with the increased marine traffic and incidents at sea, the National Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (NTRC) identified this project as a priority goal for the Universal Service Fund in 2010, but due to the limited availability of funding, the implementation of the project was delayed.

Director of the NTRC Apollo Knights said that the project has been a personal goal of his since he joined the public service.

“Challenges came but we never gave up,” he said.

He too stressed the significance of having such a system, saying that the number of incidents at sea prompted the authorities to get the project going.

“Today, we are here and the system is up and running,” Knights said.

There is one radar site at Mount St Andrew, with two other sites identified, he explained.

However, in the interim, radio sets have been placed at various police stations, particularly on the Leeward side of the island, to facilitate communication, until the antennas are erected Knights said.

Director of Special Projects Dr Jerrol Thompson contended that the new system would assist in curbing the issue of yacht robberies.

He explained that while there had been a few strategies employed by the Ministry of Tourism, they needed to go a step further.

“Over the last few weeks, Minister McKie has brought issues of yacht related crime,” Thompson said, adding that he thought the GMDSS would bring a boost to the tourism industry.

“The whole idea that a fisherman can press a button and a text-like message sent to Coastguard to inform of an emergency, no longer is it going to be ‘Mayday Mayday’,” he said.

“This is practical use of technology.”

The sets will be made available to operators of marine vessels at a subsidized cost, about the cost of a cellular phone. (DD)