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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
I cannot date this article by Clive Evens RO/ETO but judging by continuing discussion on SN in a similar vein it could have been yesterday ...Quote

Below an article published on the “THE TELEGRAPH” – the Nautilus International monthly magazine – wrote by British Radio Officer George Clive Evans

.I am trying to raise awareness of the fact that there is no effective backup if satellites fail.

May be of interest

I recently carried out some research into modern communications systems to/from ships.

There are currently 5 satcom systems in use or shortly becoming operational. Inmarsat, international; Iridium USA; Thuraya, UAE?; Orbcomm, USA; Globalstar, USA.

Sadly, Goonhilly/U.K. no longer exists.

There are now hundreds of orbiting satellites for these systems.

I have been concerned for some time about the vulnerability of these satellite systems.

They could be made non-operational by serious cosmic events (sunspots, flares) or Warlike operations disabling or jamming satellite frequencies.

WHERE IS THE BACK UP FOR SHIPS COMMUNICATIONS?

Terrestriel commercial, maritime stations, GKA, PCH, Dan. Etc all dismantled.

Radio direction finding stations on radio frequencies, dismantled and removed from ships.

Decca Navigator, Loran C, Consol. All ceased to be operational and dismantled.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I submit that the shipping world is sleepwalking into a communication blackout or worse.

Worldwide coast guard and MRCC stations cannot possibly cope with latterly hundreds of ships out of communications.

I would be interested to have some feedback/thoughts of all seagoing personnel, deck officers and ETOs. Am I wrong, is there a fallback for ships communications?

Remember, if satellites stop operating, this means: No GPS, no navwarings deep sea, navtex should cover coastal voyages.

Although all the ITU SSB r/t, telex, dsc frequencies are still available they will become overloaded or useless as there are no commercial stations capable of dealing with them all.

I am surprised that the UK sold Goonhilly earth station, dismantled Portishead radio without thinking of the possible consequences.

So, I need your thoughts, Gov. UK has taken its eye of the maritime ball.

Stay safe, safe sailing, stay well

Clive Evans
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An interesting posting and one I am sure few have realised?. As far as I am aware, the issue could apply to all Worldwide modern communication's?. Not just Maritime. It was mooted some years ago that it would only take a handful of small nuclear detonations in the outer atmosphere to disable 90% of modern comm`s?. Leaving Sub Sea cables as the only viable infrastructure?, and of course no use to maritime operations.
 

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GMDSS has full r/t services using old fashioned radio services
Digital Selective Calling (DSC): This is a calling service between ship to ship, ship to shore or vice versa for safety and distress information mainly on high or medium frequency and VHF maritime radio.

It is possible shore stations could be swamped but as this is now basic tech it could be set up anywhere pretty quick.

I speak as a GMDSS operator. Strangely enough, after doing my course at Wray Castle the only one to fail was an R/O. The rest of us left with a certificate and no idea what we had just passed.
 

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A matter of how the balance of risks is weighted. What is the outfit and manning that is likely to result in the loss of fewer 'souls' at sea.

At the beginning I specified the duplicate A3 set-up to be Sat C and TOR. Two lines of experience reduced me to the opinion two Sat Cs would be the more reliable. Not from a hardware point of view but ensuring that TOR was practiced from both the operating angle and that telex, the commercial interface that would have allowed routine usage and so fluency, disappeared.

With our one A4 ship I proposed a dual TOR system but as there was no full MSI coverage on HF in the navigable Arctic this was not approved.

Of the emergency drills we carried out I lobbied unsuccessfully to limit the communications to those that would be left in a blacked out state (hardly an unusual feature of a casualty) - ie the GMDSS kit. That was never done. Class are often contracted to provide expert analysis of damage strength and stability, communicating directly with 'their charge' in an emergency - I do not know if even they have tried to provide assistance using GMDSS only facilities. I have only seen it using commercial satellite features.

As a result (admittedly I have familiarity with only two corporate ideologies and that is dated) I suspect that we are more likely to see a situation in a small number of casualties where the fullest assistance could not be brought to bear as the shore (and perhaps) the ship could not use the available but unfamiliar, undrilled, GMDSS route, rather than a failure in space or land segments (and now we have at least two satellite GMDSS systems with Iridium being included).

We have a problem, anyway, in not having the commercial kit sufficiently secure to be GMDSS approved. Naturally the operators will be fluent with the commercial plant as it will be in daily use. Almost by definition they will not be fluent in operations of separate GMDSS equipment. I had considerable difficulty in getting a Sat C message to a passenger ship (I wanted the rude marriage congratulations to look as much like a traditional telegram as possible). Whilst I did find a service (TelegramToShip.com) to carry it and it did get there I am told that when it was delivered staff reported that they had never seen a commercial message by Sat C before.

As for land to land communications aren't these mainly now by cable? Terminating electronics might be fried by a nuclear or other EMP but water is a very effective shield. I am reliably informed that sailors on steam submarines get less exposure from their steam generator when submerged than were they would from cosmic radiation in 'normal' life.
 

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Some time ago, whilst still at GKZ, there was a collision between a tanker and a fishing vessel. The tanker caught fire and the first thing that happened was that the satellite dome was burnt out. We never heard anything from the tanker.

David

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Discussion Starter #6
I cannot reply at a similar depth as above posts but one thing that comes across as the reason why Clive wrote the article in the first place..
There is simply no back-up for GMDSS unlike the old RO system the lack of human involvement could possibly result in a distress being ignored.
This would not be the case in the old days simply due to the response from ships and coast stations within range of the distress position.
I quantify this by saying way back in 1989 I watched a demonstration of Inmarsat traffic when a XXX Medico from a South Korean shipped popped up on the screen.
After two hours it was still being repeated without one solitary acknowledgement.
I wasn't impressed.
 

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Some time ago, whilst still at GKZ, there was a collision between a tanker and a fishing vessel. The tanker caught fire and the first thing that happened was that the satellite dome was burnt out. We never heard anything from the tanker.

David

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Come on David, if the SATCOM had been fully functional throughout you still wouldn't have heard a thing - if the emergency Comms were being handled over satellite the ship would have been in direct contact with the Falmouth MRCC. (Possibly the owners too! 😜).
Since you refer to a 'dome' I suspect that you are referring to an INMARSAT A terminal. I never came across any such equipment designated as part of the ship's mandated GMDSS installation. Such an arrangement would require it, and the gyro feeding it with heading information, to be supplied with its power from the emergency radio power supply. Quite a challenge that few owners were willing to undertake.
 

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Where exactly is the back up for the W/T ship seeking assistance? If you are talking hardware there is at least as much duplication as provided by a battery driven emergency set. If we are talking people then there wasn't (with the exception of H16 and H24 vessels).

(Ron, Inmarsat, pre-implementation, 'advertised' that owners could take their existing A's into GMDSS (I agree there would be at least a temporary loss of aiming/login with a power outage/interruption. Liberian flag honoured that on existing ships I understand but never cam across such an installation).

In R65..'s example I point out that all the hardware and software as well as the peopleware on the seeking vessel communicated the Urgency message. It was a failure of the receiving peopleware (although a demonstration may have been in parallel with the operational watch?)

I don't think it argues against the benefit of having the commercial station as the GMDSS station when recalling our first retrofit on Al Farabi. All the GMDSS station was wiped out with a lightning strike (Capt. French's Telex started "BY THE LIGHT OF THE ALDIS I CAN SEE THE DF LOOPS DANGLING FOM THE MAST") The only survivor was one VHF (possibly an original) and the JUE 35. But 'properly incorporated, also has its draw backs. All the kit's aerials must be sited as high up as possible and so at maximum risk of electrical storms. Al Farabi's had had a Sat C with two aerials intended for siting lower down but either side to maintain fullest 'view' of the satellite. The DNV Surveyor went against this (approved) location and had them mounted up the mast and so they got hit just like the rest (the two aerial concept was not developed for this but for 'seeing' over the horizon in higher latitudes than the sets would normally be able to operate. Placed vertically some metres different - can't remember figure - the diffracted satellite signal would catch either one or the other). It would also have been handy for simple redundancy but (Alpha Crusader or Atlantic Denholm?) my colleague refused to replace the first one to fail. I need not relate the end of that story!.
 

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GMDSS ships trading deep sea (Sea Area A3) do not have to be (technically) fitted with HF. As Varley said above, A3 ships have an option to duplicate the Inmarsat C.

Ships that take the two Inmarsat C option only have to be fitted with MF (2MHz) DSC and voice.. all ships are actually fitted with HF, because there is no such thing as a MF only radio....BUT they only have voice, not DSC...ships would have to keep a listening watch on HF voice...that won't happen - GMDSS is intended to automate radio watchkeeping.

Ships that take the other option of Inmarsat C and MF/HF often turn the HF off because of excessive DSC alarms. DSC is an over complicated bastard of a system....

And, shore based HF GMDSS facilities are rare these days, as no one want to pay for them - no revenue stream from commercial traffic.

So, we could put in all the HF shore based facilities we want...but it would be pointless unless you can get IMO to change the SOLAS convention (the bit that specifies ship equipment fits)..to make ships fit HF DSC...

From experience at IMO, I can assure you that will not happen...:confused:

GMDSS is a classic camel - a horse designed by a committee...(IMO and ITU)..
 

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I will grab that good point too. A single safe system would improve the competition/spread of service providers eager to share the commercial traffic revenue. Arranging priority routeing for safety traffic and carrying MSI would be a minor inconvenience overall (they would probably get paid for broadcasting MSI as well). How many of us have special facilities for summoning the fire, police or ambulance services? A very few seriously unfit or unable to communicate verbally, everyone else uses the telephone.

A ship/seafarer cannot ever be 100 % 'safe'. Even if one were on leave and never slated to see 'the ship' again you might be struck by lightning (just a tiny bit less unlikely if you were playing that godforsaken spoiling of a walk that is golf). I have often thought that SOLAS is overwell wrapped-up in what and how to do in an emergency and too little wrapped in how to avoid emergencies. Countering every risk however small will result in the risk of the countermeasures themselves overtaking the equation of diminishing returns and becoming more liability than asset.

Engineers think risk in ships is all about engines; R/Os, the souls to be saved from the vast number of wrecks expected; Navigators, about avoiding rocks and the dodging thereof. No doubt there is significant risk in all three but the biggest risk is that something makes the transporting of stuff by sea an unattractive investment, then there will be no jobs of any of us (especially for those from flags that have valued education and certification as an essential means of reducing risks. Perhaps not always a priority shared with IMO). The cost of regulation could become that something.
 

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Shipowners being cost cutting mean b.....t's I really meant caring responsible employers all jumped at the GMDSS to reduce costs cheered on by many of our fellow seafarers , when you looked at the spares required to be carried on GMDSS it consisted of a few fuses and not much else; there are no worries about satellites it has never happened. In the meantime the cost cutting has moved on to other fields and there is no going back. The only thing that worried shipowners is an oil spill off the coast of the U.S. or an oily waste discharge.
 

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Shipowners being cost cutting mean b.....t's I really meant caring responsible employers all jumped at the GMDSS to reduce costs cheered on by many of our fellow seafarers , when you looked at the spares required to be carried on GMDSS it consisted of a few fuses and not much else; there are no worries about satellites it has never happened. In the meantime the cost cutting has moved on to other fields and there is no going back. The only thing that worried shipowners is an oil spill off the coast of the U.S. or an oily waste discharge.
Yep, exactly - I will have a beer and a laugh tonight.
 

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As a traditional R/O during traditional R/O times (60's-70's) I was rather worried about back-up communications even then.
Never mind for the ship - this was for selfish personal reasons.
Who would be able to send out that XXX MEDICO if I was incapacitated by illness or accident?

Nothing new then!
 

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I am sure your shipmates would have rallied round and managed something, Pippin. Unconcerned for their own safety as they would be, sure in their confidence in the printed instructions, and the AKD.
 

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There is simply no back-up for GMDSS unlike the old RO system the lack of human involvement could possibly result in a distress being ignored.
This would not be the case in the old days simply due to the response from ships and coast stations within range of the distress position.

I wasn't impressed.
How can there be a lack of human response? They may be 3 watchkeepers and the Captain or more qualified compared to one R/O.
At the beginning there was such a mess with the relaying of every dsc alert that a watchkeeper spent his watch cancelling a relay from a ship in the pacific that picked up a distress from the indian ocean only to bounce it to me in the North Sea it was a nightmare.
Thankfully it has calmed down and certain frequencies can be blocked, depending on trading areas.
It was not a cost cutting exercise until we asked the Company to split the R/O salary between the watchkeepers. They declined.
It was/is ill thought out. Absolutely no consideration was given to the interface and the lack of experience of the operators. In the first hour of my first lesson in Wray Castle I was told we have six different radio stations to train on as all manufacturers have different software. I asked why and was told it was not possible. I pointed out that Bill Gates has done a good job with windows. It would be nice to walk on a ship, sit at the keyboard and press F10 knowing it would send an SOS, no matter who the manufacturer was. Also, what is it with the frequencies. They agreed that for operational purpose there is no difference between 6312 and 6000. As 6000 is easy to remember I asked why all frequencies weren't x000 etc. Didn't think of it was the reply. I think it sad.
 

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Ron - This was pre-GMDSS days. It was the trawler which gave the alarm to PCH but not on 2182. . Neither was heard on 2182 - Only PCH controlling. At a 'wash-up' meeting much later, we heard that the tanker crew at one point made life difficult for the SAR helicopter pilot by making the hoist wire fast to the aft rails !!!.

David

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It was/is ill thought out. Absolutely no consideration was given to the interface and the lack of experience of the operators. In the first hour of my first lesson in Wray Castle I was told we have six different radio stations to train on as all manufacturers have different software. I asked why and was told it was not possible. I pointed out that Bill Gates has done a good job with windows. It would be nice to walk on a ship, sit at the keyboard and press F10 knowing it would send an SOS, no matter who the manufacturer was. Also, what is it with the frequencies. They agreed that for operational purpose there is no difference between 6312 and 6000. As 6000 is easy to remember I asked why all frequencies weren't x000 etc. Didn't think of it was the reply. I think it sad.
IMO were told this time and time and time again at COMSAR meetings by user groups and Administrations. Ignored...

I lead the charge at ITU to simplify DSC by removing unnecessary functions and having a standard user interface.

I was partially successful...but a lot of the crap remains.
 

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Pippin said:
As a traditional R/O during traditional R/O times (60's-70's) I was rather worried about back-up communications even then.
Never mind for the ship - this was for selfish personal reasons.
Who would be able to send out that XXX MEDICO if I was incapacitated by illness or accident?
I could have written this myself! A pretty ancient Liberty Boat en route from Torre Anunziata in the Bay of Naples to BA in December 1965 I started to feel unwell and pretty soon woke up in the sick bay, a one berth cabin. Of course no medic other than the Chief Steward and no memories from then until I woke again in a very nice 'hospital' bed with a need to go to the toilet - but not a proper bed, still on a ship somewhere. Found the toilet and mission accomplished going back to the bed I was found by a nurse who wanted to know what I was doing out of bed and awake - but not for long - back to sleep. Woke up again in proper hospital in Santos, Brazil some time later. I spoke not a word of Portuguese and none of the other nine or ten people in the ward spoke any English - someone bought me a glass of water and came back with a nurse and a scouser who spoke the language. I found out from him in translation that I had got hepatitis and something call bilhazia and was lucky to be here. I had been transferred at sea into a Norwegian passenger ship where they treated me as best they could and then into the hospital in Santos where I had been unconscious for over three weeks having been injected with all sorts of things and fed down a tube. Special low salt diet, pretty tasteless, but slowly got better. My discharge book says is was discharged 'at sea 29/12/65'.Somewhere they found my kitbag with very little clothing in it, no uniform but a suit! I asked a padre to see if he could buy me some underwear and a couple of shirts - finally got back to UK as a DBS feeling decidedly under dressed on a passenger ship (Aragon?) . My next ship was on 28th April so I was out of service for nearly four months. I often wonder how it was arranged that I got transferred at sea - aldis lamp I guess but just by chance a passenger ship was passing southbound, otherwise I might not have been here! Who was the poor sparkie who got sent out to Sao Paulo to take my place - wasn't much of a ship but a great crew and magnificent food. I suppose the ship is long gone - MS Glaisdale of Headlams, Whitby.

Cheers - Martin.
 
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