IMO SUB-COMMITTEE ON RADIOCOMMUNICATIONS AND SEARCH AND RESCUE, 17th SESSION 21 – 25 JANUARY 2013

The IMO’s Sub-Committee on Radiocommunications and Search and Rescue (COMSAR) held its 17th session from Monday 21 through Friday 25 January 2013 under the Chairmanship of Mr C Salgado (CHILE); the Vice-Chairman, Mr Ringo Lakeman (NETHERLANDS) was also present. Given the imminent re-organisation and probable merging of some IMO sub-committees later this year, re-elections of the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of COMSAR were carried out for 2013 only. Following a welcoming address by the Secretary-General of IMO in which notably, he re-iterated his determination to halve the number of marine casualties by 2015 and stressed the importance of the Sub-Committees re-structuring, the meeting agenda was adopted. Three working groups (WGs) were formed:

WG1 Search and Rescue matters, chaired by Mr N. Clifford (NEW ZEALAND)
WG2 Technical matters, chaired by Mr A Schwarz (GERMANY)
WG3 e-navigation and LRIT matters, chaired by Dr S Ryan (CANADA)

A Drafting Group was also formed to process the ‘Development of a mandatory Polar Code’, chaired by Mrs T Stemre (NORWAY).

Salient points from the meeting on items of particular interest to Intermanager members are as follows:

• DEVELOPMENTS IN MARITIME RADIOCOMMUNICATION SYSTEMS AND TECHNOLOGY. Noting the significant potential to confuse both seafarers and shore authorities, (including RCCs) on search planning and coverage procedures and processes to be carried out on receipt of reports of an AIS-SART signal, the ICAO / IMO Joint Working Group was instructed to develop detailed guidance on how administrations should respond
Further potential for confusion was noted with current AIS symbology where one symbol is used for more than one type of device, some of which constitute distress alerts within the GMDSS (EPIRB-AIS) and some which do not (AIS-SART, AIS-MOB). Given the critical importance of this issue in terms of Search and Rescue, Member Governments and International Organisations were invited to submit proposals on the matter of AIS symbology to NAV 59 or to the Correspondence Group established by NAV 58.
Currently available AIS-MOB devices are often mis-used on occasions for the routine location of people where there is no actual or potential SAR concern (eg surfacing divers giving their location to the dive tender for routine pickup). Such inappropriate use generates significant false alerts for some administrations, thus the ICAO / IMO Joint Working Group were tasked to provide further clarification and recommend possible action.

• DEVELOPMENT OF A MANDATORY CODE FOR SHIPS OPERATING IN POLAR WATERS. The drafting group on the development of a mandatory Polar Code took into account proposals made in Plenary and those provided by the SAR and Technical Working Groups to finalise a consolidated response to DE 57 on parts of the Polar Code under the purview of COMSAR. Additionally, FRANCE will forward an input on medical equipment which is not included in COMSAR’s submission.

• DEVELOPMENT OF AN e-NAVIGATION STRATEGY IMPLEMENTATION PLAN. NAV 58 re-established the Correspondence Group on e-navigation under the coordination of Norway and instructed it to take into account the revised joint plan of work for COMSAR, NAV and STW sub-committees. This included a list of potential e-navigation solutions most relevant to communications and search and rescue aspects. The document also contained information on cost-benefit assessment, the results of test beds and the outcome of two workshops related to e-navigation. Accordingly, the Sub-Committee took note of:

1. the on-going process of risk and cost benefit assessment for e-navigation;

2. a test bed satisfactorily conducted in Singapore to demonstrate the use of IHO S-100 standard to promulgate Maritime Safety information; and

3. the comments and observations related to information exchange and communication in Polar and other remote regions, including the possibility of routeing e-navigation information through existing LRIT Data Centres (DC’s) to facilitate the exchange of information between administrations and different shore-based stakeholders.

• CONSIDERATION OF LRIT – RELATED MATTERS. A revision on Audits of LRIT Data Centres and of the International LRIT Data Exchange conducted by the LRIT Coordinator will be forwarded to MSC for approval. A future way of measuring the availability of Data Centres (DCs) will be sought to replace the current method of using System status messages contained in the IDE journal. WG3’s recommendation that the provision of read-only access to the web interface of the LRIT Data Distribution Plan should be provided to GISIS users of Member Governments only and also the inclusion of information related to authorised testing Application Service Providers, was endorsed by the sub-committee. A draft resolution on Operations of the International LRIT Data Exchange after 2013 was also forwarded to MSC for approval. Finally, the European Commission observer informed the sub-committee that a new software release is expected at the end of 2013 which will increase the resilience of the IDE to attacks against its supporting infrastructure.

• GLOBAL MARITIME DISTRESS AND SAFETY SYSTEMS (GMDSS). Discussion in Plenary acknowledged the added value of considering certain overarching principles based upon lessons learned from the existing GMDSS when performing the review and modernisation. It also was agreed that existing radiocommunication systems, established in domestic regulation of each State should be taken into account, especially for non-SOLAS ships such as those in domestic trade and fishing vessels. Following deliberation in the Technical Working Group (TWG), the Secretariat was instructed to prepare revised draft MSC Circulars on amendments to the relevant resolutions for approval at MSC 92. The TWG was also advised to take into account the need to clearly identify issues requiring further consideration by and advice from the Correspondence Group (co-ordinated by the United States) and the Joint IMO / ITU Expert group when preparing the draft high-level review of GMDSS.

• ITU MARITIME RADIOCOMMUNICATION MATTERS. Following the TWG’s recommendation, ICAO / IMO Joint Working Group was instructed to consider:

1. the difficulty of switching off the EPIRB for a user, and the preferred cancellation procedure in case of an accidentally activated EPRIB; and

2. in relation to preparing a draft IMO position on relevant agenda items for WRC-15, the matter of broadband public protection and disaster relief.
Japan expressed the view that additional frequencies for AIS will be needed in order to secure the smooth data exchange of AIS thus supporting an ITU study under WRC-15, Agenda item 1.16. Other AIS authorities of IMO Member governments were encouraged to submit the VHF data link situation in their countries to assist the study. Meanwhile, the European Space Agency provided information on a possible satellite VHF Data Exchange (VDE) downlink complement as part of the emerging VDE.
The validity of radiocommunications’ equipment installed and used on ships was the subject of a draft MSC circular for approval at MSC92 whilst a ninth meeting of the IMO / ITU Expert Group on Maritime Radiocommunication matters will convene from 14 to 18 October 2013 and the tenth meeting, a year later.

• CONSIDERATION OF DEVELOPMENTS IN INMARSAT AND COSPAS-SARSAT. Member Governments were requested to take note of the issue of non-original equipment batteries being sold for use in COSPAS-SARSAT type-approved 406-MHz EPIRBs producing a reduced battery life and were urged to develop additional national measures to address the matter. Worryingly, instances of it are on the increase and also occurring in other equipment such as VHF communication equipment in AIS-SART.
The SAR Working Group recommended an examination of the features that drive consumption of battery life for relevance in the design of the next generation beacons whilst exploring trade-offs which minimise energy expenditure and maximise battery service life.
Next generation beacons are expected to be available from 2015 projecting the need to rationalise a potentially unnecessarily large number of different coding schemes.

• SEARCH AND RESCUE (SAR). The target completion year for the planned output on the ‘Development of guidelines on harmonised aeronautical and maritime search and rescue procedures, including SAR training matters’ has been extended to 2014. With respect to global SAR, access has been made available for Member Governments to enter and update information on SAR services directly into ‘The Global Integrated Shipping Information System’ (GISIS) from IMO Docs on https://webaccounts.imo.org/
The establishment of MRCC’s in all seven countries of Central America and a concomitant SAR organisation in which the individual countries will cooperate with their neighbours appears to be making sure progress.
COSPAS-SARSAT will be advised of the IMO’s view on the future implementation of type-2 acknowledgements, type-2 messaging, other two-way messaging with beacons, and beacon manipulation noting that none of the current proposals are supported. However, the exploration of two-way technology is considered worthy of future detailed study. The Secretariat was instructed to add a column to the SAR.7 circular showing the list of IMO documents and publications which should be held by an MRCC, stating where the documents were available and whether they are available for download or purchase.
Concern was expressed regarding the advice provided by MSC 91 to manufacturers, to affix product labels to the AIS-SART, EPIRB-AIS and AIS Man Overboard equipment indicating that such devices must be regarded as location aids in emergency situations and not as distress alert systems. It was felt that this could cause confusion and therefore Member Governments and international organisation were asked to submit proposals on the development of further guidance. There were no proposals on measures of how to avoid false distress alerts.

• DEVELOPMENT OF AMENDMENTS TO THE IAMSAR MANUAL. Proposed amendments to Volume II of the IAMSAR Manual were finalised for approval by MSC 95 in 2015 and their consequential inclusion in the 2016 edition. Approval for further meetings of the ICAO / IMO Joint Working Group in 2013 and 2014 will be requested of MSC.

• REFORM OF THE SUBSIDIARY BODIES REPORTING TO MSC. The proposed amalgamation of the NAV and COMSAR Sub-Committees into one new sub-committee was supported in principle by the majority of those who spoke, provided that effectiveness and participation are not compromised. A clear preference was expressed to retain SAR issues with Radiocommunications, due to their close relationship, and for SAR issues to be addressed annually within any new sub-committee. There was a great deal of discussion on the provision of interpretation for plenary sessions and the extent of possible workload increase. Views expressed will be taken into account by the Secretary General and Secretariat in preparation of the detailed proposal requested by MSC 91 for consideration at MEPC 65 (13 – 17 May 2013) and MSC 92 (12 – 21 June 2013).

• COSTA CONCORDIA. The Italian Coast Guard gave a short lunch-time presentation concerning the Costa Concordia salvage operation. There have been no marked changes since my last report but steady progress is evident.

Captain Paddy McKnight END

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