Home >> June 2009 Edition >> FOCAL POINT: Safety @ Sea—SATCOM To The Rescue
FOCAL POINT: Safety @ Sea—SATCOM To The Rescue
by Carlton van Putten
by Carlton van Putten

In early 2009, the pirate hijacking of the Maersk Alabama and its 20-man US crew off the Somali coast garnered worldwide media attention. This recent attack shed light onto the constant threat vessels face when they are “off the grid” and out of country jurisdiction. This event, and other piracy-related activity since then, has thrust the spotlight on the absolute need for nautical safety by ship owners, managers, and crews.

In open water, the challenge of keeping a crew safe from hijackings has become a paramount task. Supplying the vessel with proper two-way communication equipment is one key to achieving safe transit. Without constant ship-to-shore and ship-to-ship communication, the danger of managing a vessel off the grid becomes all too real.

Scenario: Pirates are attempting to hijack a ship. Every second counts during this critical time and each move affects the final outcome. Certain actions need to be immediately instituted. First, the authorities and other ships must be made aware of the danger the crew of the ship under attack faces. Secondly, the vessel’s exact location must be relayed in order to notify others who can then be of assistance or even aid in a rescue. These two time critical steps are vital to a safe outcome and both are rooted in real-time and reliable communication.

The only way to guarantee the crew’s Mayday notification is received and the location signal is accurate is via a truly global GPS system and communication package. With satellite communications and GPS locators onboard, a ship’s location is always known in the event aid is required. This greatly decreases the emergency response time by third parties.

One example, among others, of such an effective communication system is Blue Sky Network’s SkyRouter. Using a global web-based map, SkyRouter working in tandem with a BSN tracking and two-way messaging device such as the Company’s D2000, transmits satellite messages to and from ships with exact GPS position reports and two-way text messages. This technology also delivers real-time Mayday/panic alerts. These messages can be forwarded to any email address or mobile phone.

Without communication technology such as this, ships cannot signal for immediate help — without this tracking technology, precious time will be wasted searching for the correct location of those in trouble. Using BSN’s technology, all pertinent information is situated in one secure location and an Internet connection or mobile phone is all that is necessary to receive reports.

The necessity for accurate and rapid communication to and from nautical fleets is more apparent today than ever before — SATCOM is one solution to the critical need for maritime emergency planning. In the event of a hijacking, ships must have the ability to transmit a distress signal, which can specify the broadcasting vessel’s location. Even off the grid, ships should never be untraceable, and with a technology such as SkyRouter, that speck in the vast ocean can be readily identified and located.