Morse Code Ceased to be an official Maritime Distress Mode
at Midnight on 31st January 1999
At 0000 UTC 1st February 1999 500kHz ceased, after over 100 years, to be part of the international maritime distress and safety network.
Many stations operating on 500kHz had already closed down, the UK stations closed in the early hours of 1st January 1998 while other European and Stateside stations had closed previously.
OSTEND RADIO/OST (Belgium) sent its closure broadcast on 500kHz at 2300 UTC 31st January 1999 and, after a number of farewell QSL's and QSO's, closed down their W/T equipment..
In GREENLAND, OXF also closed and stations were heard making their final QSO's with them.
REYKJAVIK RADIO/TFA (Iceland) broadcast it's closing message at 0001 UTC 1st February 1999 and thereafter took final QSO's with coast and ship stations.
TFA then passed the frequency to LYNGBY RADIO/OXZ (Denmark) for it's close down broadcast and final QSO's. Later that morning I spoke on the Amateur Bands to one of the Radio Officers from OXZ who told me that he would be on duty that afternoon and he would find it strange seeing the W/T equipment closed down for the first time ever.
Once completed, OXZ passed the frequency to VALENTIA RADIO/EJK (Ireland) for it's close down broadcast and final QSO's. EJK's broadcast reminded listeners that the station had been on continuous W/T watch since 1914 and commented that "a wonderful era had ended."
A brief joint broadcast from Skagen/OXP and Blaavand/OXB at 0021 hours on 1st February 1999 announced the end of W/T from those stations.
Thorshaven Radio/OXJ in the Faeroe Islands remains open on W/T but put out a broadcast to acknowledge the passing of the distress system. The Faeroes got sea cable connection with Europe in 1906 and wireless telegraphy from 1917.
Also remaining open are the Norwegian and Swedish stations. Rogoland/LGQ had maintained continuous W/T watch since 1919 and their broadcast commented "we hope that GMDSS will take care of the security as good as morse signals have done. We deeply regret that this period has come to an end." SWEDISH STATIONS are to remain open until 2001.
SPANISH STATIONS were remaining open until the end of February 1999 and were heard on air saying their farewells to those who were closing. It only seems yesterday since the Spanish were fitted with W/T equipment which didn't "chirp"!!!.
CANADIAN STATIONS were also understood to be closing and, although their signals could not be heard at the authors QTH, others were heard in QSO with them (including the 150 watts from the resurrected EJM!)
Stations from FINLAND and ITALY were also heard on air and it is understood that they are to remain active on 500kHz indefinately.
More information on Coast Radio Stations can be found here