Report from COMSAR 10, held at IMO, 6 - 10 March 2006.

The tenth meeting of the Sub-committee on Radiocommunications and Search and Rescue (COMSAR 10) was opened by IMO Secretary General Mr E.E. Mitropoulos. In welcoming the participants, the Secretary-General expressed his deep sadness at the recent tragic loss of more than 900 lives in the accident involving the ro-ro ferry "al-Salam Boccaccio 98"in the Red Sea. He stated that it was most regrettable that this accident occurred during what was supposed to be a routine voyage between two ports of neighbouring countries. In an expression of sympathy for those who lost their lives and their grieving families, friends and colleagues, and at the Secretary-General’s request, the Sub-committee observed one minute's silence in memory of the victims of the tragedy. 

Combined simplified Voyage Data Recorder (S-VDR) / 406 MHZ EPIRB 

The Sub-committee recalled that COMSAR 8 had discussed the topic of the use of float-free capsules with simplified voyage data recorder, together with the possibility of using the Emergency Position Indicating Radiobeacons (EPIRB) required by SOLAS chapter IV for the S-VDR capsule. Subsequently, MSC 78 had adopted a resolution providing performance standards for such devices (MSC 163(78). COSPAS-SARSAT (International Satellite System for Search and Rescue) expressed its support for combined S-VDR/406 MHz EPIRB devices, including the development of the minimum performance requirements and type approval testing requirements which are detailed in the COSPAS-SARSAT documents (C/S T.001 and C/S T.007), available free of charge from the COSPAS-SARSAT Secretariat website (www.cospas-sarsat.org).  

In this context the Sub-committee considered it important to note that COSPAS-SARSAT type approval testing:

  1. did not evaluate the device´s VDR capabilities, although the possible impact of the VDR on 406 MHz performance was considered; and 
  2. was limited to confirming performance requirements defined by COSPAS-SARSAT for 406 MHz beacons, and did not assess the performance or the availability of a 121.5 MHz homer or consider the 406 MHz transmitter performance beyond the specified operational lifetime of either 24 or 48 hours.

In view of the above, Administrations should augment the COSPAS-SARSAT type approval requirements as appropriate to ensure that combined EPIRB / S-VDR beacons meet IMO requirements for the voyage data recording function and for location transmissions exceeding the COSPAS-SARSAT requirements detailed in document C/S T.001.  

The Sub-committee considered and noted that a new standard IEC 61996-2: Maritime navigation and radio communication equipment and system, Ship borne voyage data recorder. Part 2: Simplified voyage data recorder (S-VDR), Performance requirements. Method of testing and required test results, has been developed which,after its final editorial approval, is scheduled for publication in April 2006. 

The new standard supports the performance requirements for an EPIRB and S-VDR capsule (resolution MSC 163(78)) to be capable of transmitting an initial locating signal and further locating homing signal for at least 48 hours over a period of not less than 7 days/168 hours.  

Technical survey of AIS installations 

Having considered the document submitted by Norway suggesting that resolution A.948(23) (Revised survey guidelines under the harmonized system of survey and certification) should be amended by including requirements for the technical inspection/measures of Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) in order to ensure that AIS installations are operating in accordance with the operational/technical standards required, the Sub-committee noted that the Flag State Implementation (FSI) Sub-committee was responsible for revising resolution A.948(23) and had a continuous agenda item on its work programme. It was also pointed out that AIS matters came within the scope of the NAV Sub-Committee, and AIS, being a device to be used for collision avoidance in connection with other navigational devices such as radar, should, as it is now, be subject to survey and certification along with other equipment required under SOLAS chapter V.  

However, after some discussion the Sub-committee agreed in principle with the proposal that the inspections of AIS should be conducted by the radio inspectors without issuing any special certificates and recommended that an appropriate proposal should be submitted to the FSI and the NAV Sub-committees. 

LongRange Identification and Tracking (LRIT) of ships 

The COMSAR Sub-committee endorsed the draft Performance Standards and Functional Requirements for the Long Range Identification and Tracking of Ships, which were developed by the LRIT Working Group, and forwarded them to the MSC for final approval.  

These standards outline LRIT system architecture and include shipboard equipment performance requirements, LRIT security system requirements, the LRIT Coordinator's role and oversight of the Coordinator. The system architecture consists broadly of a number of LRIT data centres (national, regional or cooperative, or international) which interface and exchange information with each other through an International LRIT Data Exchange and which provide LRIT information to the LRIT data users (Contracting Governments) who wish to use their services to know the location of ships. An LRIT data centre will collect the information transmitted by the ships of Administrations that have elected to use that data centre, upon request provide their LRIT data users with the LRIT information they are entitled to receive about the location of ships, obtain LRIT information about other ships from the other LRIT data centres through the International Data Exchange and relay requests for the transmission of LRIT information on the location of ships from other data centres.  

Under this system, a Contracting Government that is seeking information about the location of ships does NOT obtain the LRIT information directly from the ship. The ship provides the LRIT information from to its data centre and the data centre provides the LRIT information either directly or indirectly to the Contracting Government that is seeking the information. MSC 81, which meets in May, will consider these draft standards in conjunction with draft amendments to SOLAS to make LRIT a mandatory requirement under the SOLAS convention. 

Contact: Fredrik Larsson