ITU’s Role in Ensuring Safe Maritime Navigation

WMD Blog ImageOver 90 per cent of the world’s trade is transported by sea. Therefore, safe navigation holds a great significance not just for the ships’ crew, but for the world’s economy. Through the Radicommunication Sector (ITU-R), ITU works to develop and update maritime communications systems and to improve the safety record of shipping. ITU does this through a number of key publications and the Maritime mobile Access and Retrieval System (MARS) database.

To celebrate World Maritime Day 2015, Mohan Das, head of Maritime Service Publications Section, explains the importance of these publications for the safe navigation of ships and how this information is published.

How does the ITU contribute to the life of a mariner?

The ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) is mandated by ITU Membership to determine the technical characteristics and operational procedures for a huge and growing range of wireless services.  This is particularly important for maritime shipping as its radios must work seamlessly, where ever the ship travels around the world.

The ITU Radiocommunications Sector operates through its Radiocommunication Bureau (BR). The BR regularly issues maritime publications that contain relevant information for ships to communicate with each other and to and from the shore. They also aid search and rescue authorities, in carrying out their duties during a distress situation. In its role as a global radio spectrum coordinator, ITU-R provides the meeting place for, among others, maritime experts from both the national administrations, international bodies and industry, to discuss and prepare, develop and maintain standards that are presented in the ITU-R Recommendations, Reports and Handbooks.  These enable effective operation and protection for different applications, including distress and safety applications and the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS).

What are these maritime publications?  

There are three publications. The first is the List of Coast Stations and special service stations. Published every two years, it provides information that helps to set up communication between a ship and a coast station, and also information on radio navigation aids. Using this information the coast station may connect the ship to the local phone network or to the appropriate authorities during a distress situation, such as the coast guard. It contains a lot of information on the coast station network of each country and the services that they provide such as various modes and frequencies of communication and details of radio aids to navigation.

The second is the List of Ship Stations and maritime mobile service identity assignments, published every year. This provides the mariner with the means to identify ships in the vicinity, including information such as their radio capabilities, size, number of persons on board, and emergency on-shore contact number. This identification allows coast stations to contact the ship, to assist them in their navigation, or to pass on some information.

The third publication is the Maritime Manual. This is a reference document that notes all the relevant rules or provisions from the ITU Radio Regulations that deal with maritime issues. It provides the operational procedures that should be followed by a ship station or a coast station in case of a distress situation.  It also provides all the rules and procedures of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) – a collection of radio communications procedures and their supporting radio systems, which support maritime safety and the rescue of ships or crew during distress situations worldwide.

What is MARS?

The Maritime mobile Access and Retrieval System (MARS) is a free of charge, remote online access and retrieval system, available over the internet. It allows users to consult the information currently registered in the ITU’s maritime database system.

It is updated on a daily basis and contains the most up to date data concerning over 700,000 ship stations and 2,000 coast stations. It also provides links to the various standards and reports that have been developed by ITU in the maritime area and other additional helpful information.

The maritime community considers the ITU maritime database to be the most complete and accurate information available as it is provided to ITU directly by the national authorities that register ships.

This blog is edited from Mr. Das’ interview on maritime navigation. Listen to the conversation in full here.

We focus on ‘navigation and innovation’ throughout September, as part of ITU’s 150th anniversary celebrations. More content can be found on the ITU150 website including the ITU150 story, ‘Innovating with Bill: How do we stay safe at sea’.   

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