S1/2002M Maritime radio traffic

Two separate organisations of the United Nations instruct maritime search and rescue operations and distress and safety radio communications. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in London covers the procedures used in maritime rescue operations and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in Geneva directs the procedures to be used in maritime radio communications.

The new Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) require that the Rescue Co-ordination Centre responsible for controlling a search and rescue operation shall also co-ordinate the distress traffic relating to the incident or may appoint another station to do so . The combined maritime search and rescue and distress traffic procedures have not been united on the national level in Finland. The bipartition is a clear disadvantage.

On the national level the procedures to be used in the maritime distress and safety communications shall be included in the search and rescue manual. In Finland the Ministry of Transport and Communications is responsible to instruct the procedures to be used in distress and safety communications and the Ministry of Interior is responsible to instruct the procedures to be used in the maritime search and rescue. The Ministry of Transport and Communications tried previously to achieve clarification to the combined procedures on the national level but the Ministry of Interior did not agree to take responsibility to co-ordinate the distress traffic, because the Frontier Guard opposed it. The Frontier Guard (includes the Coast Guard) is an integral part within the Ministry of Interior with the right to make decisions in the name of the Ministry of Interior. It was not possible to co-ordinate the maritime search and rescue procedures and the distress and safety communication procedures. Finally the national law in Finland directed the co-ordination of the maritime distress and safety communications to the Coast Guard during the year 2002.

The dual philosophy and the lack of complete instructions have suppressed the radio communication in emergency. The Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC), the Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) and the coast radio station responsible for safety communications could be locally housed in same quarters despite the fact that they operate for different ministries. This should ensure that there should be resources enough in the case of distress to maintain simultaneously the distress traffic and rescue.

The first chapter deals shortly with the general weaknesses in the radio traffic during the emergency situations as revealed in accident investigations. It is unusual in practice, that the vessel in distress transmits a distress alert or message. This report states also that the rescue centre had not transmitted the distress alert relay for the vessel, even in the situations where the reasons for it were obvious.

The second chapter deals with the maritime communication systems with the focus on the GMDSS, its subsystems and procedures for the distress and safety traffic laid down by the international Radio Regulations.

The third chapter gives a historical view to the development of the finish national rules on the distress and safety traffic in the maritime search and rescue services.

The fourth chapter illustrates the radio traffic in the context of the emergency cases.

The fifth chapter is an analyse. It reveals the reasons why a vessel in distress does not transmit a distress alert, why the distress alert relay is not transmitted for the vessel in distress and why the traffic is conducted as routine traffic or by mobile telephones.

The sixth chapter is the conclusion.

The seventh chapter deals with the recommendations.

The appendixes include the shipboard GMDSS radio equipment and duty, DSC properties, GMDSS sea areas in the Baltic, the coastal maritime radio network in Finland and the detailed procedures to be used in distress and safety communications. The appendixes may be used as a short manual of the maritime radio and the distress and safety communications.

Download the investigation report in Finnish:

S1/2002M Report (pdf, 0.98 Mt)

or in Swedish:

S1/2002M Report (pdf, 3.26 Mt)

Published 30.11.2002