Interoperability of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System

Since the establishment of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) in the 1990s, a small number of NMHSs have assumed responsibility for producing and broadcasting Maritime Safety Information (MSI) on behalf of WMO Members. As of today, the world’s ocean is fully covered under 21 Meteorological Areas (METAREAs), coordinated by 19 countries that invest human, material and financial resources to issue MSI bulletins in 24/7 shifts to the entire maritime community at no charge. This IMO (International Maritime Organization)/ WMO Worldwide Met-Ocean Information and Warning Service (WWMIWS) is to undergo a significant change.

The 99th session of the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee in May 2018 announced the acceptance of Iridium’s application to become a second GMDSS satellite provider. This change will require that the 19 NMHSs broadcast their MSI bulletins on the new Iridium system from 2020 in addition to the existing satellite system operated by Inmarsat. This is expected to increase broadcast costs, possibly even doubling them. The 19 WMO Members agreed in good faith to contribute to the operation for the last 20 years on behalf of all WMO Members, however, a new approach and business model is now required. Facing the rapidly rising costs and workload associated with supporting and monitoring multiple MSI broadcasts, it is hoped that such a model will include consideration for how best to reduce the increasing burden on the 19 METAREA Issuing Services that have long shouldered the costs and responsibility for warning mariners of hazardous weather at sea.

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