WHAT'S WRONG WITH CHANGING TO A NEW DISTRESS SYSTEM (FGMDSS)?
By David J. Ring, Jr. - Radio Electronics Officer
IT ELIMINATES THE DEDICATED RADIO OFFICER FROM SHIPS RESULTING IN MORE POORLY TRAINED PERSONNEL MANNING SHIPS WHO ARE ALREADY OVERWORKED, NEVER MIND THE ADDITIONAL DUTIES THEY'LL HAVE DURING ELECTRONICS FAILURES, OR A SHIP EMERGENCY, FIRE OR OTHER DISTRESS.
IT REPLACES A SYSTEM THAT FUNCTIONS AS A LONG RANGE INTERCOM WITH ALL PARTICIPANTS RECEIVING ALL DEVELOPMENTS INSTANTLY, A SYSTEM THAT HAS WORKED WELL FOR 80 YEARS.
EASE OF SURVEILLANCE: THE SYSTEM WHICH COMSAT IS SELLING AS "SECURE". IS NOT. THE SATELLITE BASED SYSTEM CAN'T EVEN RECEIVE MESSAGES WHILE BEING "SILENT". PLUS YOU ONLY HAVE TO LISTEN TO THE SATELLITE'S SIGNAL TO RECEIVE ANY NUMBER OF SHIPS COMMUNICATIONS - BOTH SIDES OF THE TRAFFIC! - FROM ANY GEOGRAPHIC LOCATION WITHIN THE SATELLITE'S COVERAGE AREA. DURING THESE TRANSMISSIONS EFFECTIVE DIRECTION FINDING OF VESSELS IS POSSIBLE BY SATELLITE OR AIRCRAFT, WHICH ENABLES CONFIRMATION OF VESSELS IDENTITY, AND POSITION.
SATCOM SYSTEM FUNCTIONS LIKE A OLD-FASHIONED SERIES CHAIN OF CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, ALL LIGHTS (COMPONENTS) MUST BE WORKING, OR NOTHING WORKS. NO PARALLEL CIRCUIT EXISTS.
A SHIP WITH PARTIALLY FUNCTIONING DISTRESS COMMUNICATIONS SYSTEM CANNOT PARTICIPATE IN THE DISTRESS, NOR EVEN BE ALERTED TO ITS EXISTENCE.
THE EXISTENCE OF FGMDSS WILL ENSURE COMSAT A VIRTUAL MONOPOLY IN MARINE COMMUNICATIONS. WITHOUT COMPETITION, CHARGES WILL RISE TO COVER THE HIGH COSTS OF MAINTAINING A SATELLITE DISTRESS SYSTEM.
THE CURRENT SYSTEM CAN (AND SOMETIMES DOES) RUN WITHOUT THE ASSISTANCE OF A RESCUE CO-ORDINATION CENTER (RCC). THE FUTURE SYSTEM CANNOT FUNCTION WITHOUT A RCC.
SOMEONE OUTSIDE THE VESSEL IN DISTRESS MUST ALERT POSSIBLE RESCUE SHIPS.
THE FGMDSS IS A COMPLETELY AUTOMATIC SYSTEM WHICH REQUIRES EVERYTHING TO BE PERFECTLY IN ORDER TO WORK: IT WON'T TOLERATE ANY DEVIATION FROM ITS PRESET STANDARDS:
IT'S NOT AN ADAPTABLE SYSTEM.
THE TIMES WHEN SHIP SYSTEMS AND MANPOWER ARE PUSHED TO THEIR LIMIT ARE THOSE SITUATIONS WHICH PRODUCE DISTRESS TO A VESSEL. WHEN VESSELS, MANPOWER, AND SYSTEMS ARE PUSHED TO THEIR LIMIT, OFTEN THINGS FAIL, RESULTING IN A LIFE-THREATENING DISTRESS TO THE VESSEL, ITS CARGO, AND ITS CREW. IF THE VESSEL IS A PETROLEUM OR CHEMICAL TANKER, CARGO SPILLS MAY RESULT, PRODUCING ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE TO THE OCEANS OF THE WORLD AND FINANCIAL DAMAGE TO THE SHIPPING OWNERS AND OTHERS LIABLE FOR CLEANUP AND RESTITUTION OF CARGO TO THE CHARTERERS.
SHIP'S MASTER WHO IS HIGHLY MOTIVATED TO PROTECT THE SHIP, CREW, AND CARGO (NOT TO MENTION HIS OWN LIFE). HE IS PRESENTLY IN CONTROL OF THE DISTRESS.
FGMDSS WILL REMOVE HIM FROM THIS POSITION, PLACING THE CONTROL IN THE HANDS ON THE FAR AWAY RESCUE CO-ORDINATION CENTER COMMANDER.
JUST TEN YEARS AGO IN 1980, THE COMSAT SYSTEM FAILED DURING THE DISTRESS OF THE PASSENGER SHIP PRINSENDAM, HER RADIO OFFICER USED THE DEPENDABLE LONG RANGE SYSTEM.
ALL HER PASSENGERS AND CREW WERE SAVED WITHOUT LOSS OF LIFE. WHAT'S WRONG WITH FGMDSS?
SOS, SAVES LIVES!
FGMDSS - A SYSTEM IN TROUBLE.
I have read all about the future global marine distress system (The FGMDSS system) and I find it, well, distressing. In this article, I will try to address some of the technical and political problems facing Mariners and their future safety by discussing the present and future Satellite based Distress Systems.
Ship Distress Communications have always happened at perilous moments, moments accompanied by other factors
EMP: Its dangers and effects on radio propagation and electronic equipment.
ElectroMagnetic Pulse, or, EMP is the extremely high voltage gradient which propagates after a nuclear devise is detonated. This EMP destroys solid state devises (Integrated Circuits, IC's, and transistors), thus knocking out equipment like computers, navigation and communications satellites, electronic telephone switching systems, and transistorized satellite and conventional radio equipment. Vacuum tube type equipment as is found on Soviet aircraft and ships and on many U.S.A. and foreign merchant ships has much greater protection from EMP. Scientific observations have disclosed that in addition to the damage done to solid state equipment, the EMP energizes the ionosphere in such a way as to all but eliminate all radio propagation. Even if some solid state radio and/or satellite equipment survived the surge of EMP, communications would be interrupted. However, the first frequencies to become refreshed as the effects of the EMP wear off, are the lower frequencies: The Low Frequency (LF) and Medium Frequency (MF) portions of the radio spectrum. The International Morse Radiotelegraph Distress Frequency of 500 kHz, located just below the A.M. broadcast band, is one of those frequency. It has been demonstrated that manual Morse radiotelegraphy enjoys a marked advantage in communicating compared with other modes of radio communications. Morse radiotelegraphy can be used to communicate further, for a longer period of time, and with more effectiveness than other modes given the same radio propagation conditions. Because of the nature of Morse communication, we need not worry about a minimum signal strength, nor on phase distortion. We need only detect a signal above the background noise, and be able to determine if the signal is a short element (dot), long element (dash) and the spacing between the code elements to decode the signal. This makes morse reception far more reliable than reception of audio signals where phase distortion and fading
The Effectiveness of the 500 kHz Radiotelegraph System.
Radio Officers have demonstrated that a working range on 500 kHz of approximately 1200 nautical miles during the day is routinely available at sea, while at night, when signals travel much further, 500 kHz Morse radiotelegraphy can, and does, span oceans. In fact, in my research into the distress of the passenger ship MV PRINSENDAM/PJTA whose passengers and crew abandoned ship in lifeboats after an engine room fire spread throughout the ship which was burning out of control in the Gulf of Alaska on October 4-5, 1980, I have learned that her low powered battery emergency transmitter was heard across the Pacific by AWARUA RADIO/ZLB in New Zealand, in addition to Coast Stations on the pacific rim, including RCA San Francisco Radio/KPH, and ITT San Francisco Radio/KFS, and, of course, all the nearer stations in Canada and Alaska. Also during that night, two-way communications were established between the rescue ship WILLIAMSBURGH/WGOA who was only using her battery 40 watt output radio transmitter and SEATTLE RADIO/KLB on 500 kHz and is a matter of historical record in both the radiotelegraph logbooks of the WILLIAMSBURGH and of SEATTLE RADIO/KLB, and is also contained verbatum on the slow speed magnetic tape recordings of the distress communications on 500 kHz made by the United States Coast Guard (U.S.C.G.) at its Communications Stations (COMSTAs) in Kodiak, Alaska, and in San Francisco, CA. Incongruously, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) (which was formed to be our Congress to be their specialists in communications), stated (incorrectly) before Congress during the Marine Safety Hearings held in 1984 that the maximum distance was only several hundred miles, even though subordinates at the Commission knew otherwise.
Distress Communications with the PRINSENDAM:
How the Morse Distress System saved the lives
of over 500 passengers and crew.
According to my in-person and telephone discussions of the distress with Mr. Jack Van der Zee, the Chief Radio Officer of the PRINSENDAM during the distress, and from the printed transcript of the Dutch Board of Inquiry into the distress, the three phase A.C. mains to the Bridge and Radio Room was lost during the fire. This resulted in loosing the mains powered Main Transmitter (500 kHz), the HF radios, and SATCOM, leaving the PRINSENDAM with only her battery powered 500 kHz Morse radio transmitter and receiver set.
The Dutch Board of Inquiry acknowledged that there were problems with the distress communications, but for the most part communications went very well. What went wrong was that the communications through the SATCOM Distress System were flawed, and that during the distress the SATCOM system failed. What went right was that the dependable Morse Distress System operated the way it was supposed to, and brought help quickly to the scene.
The Chief Radio Officer, Mr. Van der Zee, now retired in Holland, told me that in his opinion that "the INMARSAT SATCOM system is not a reliable means of Distress Communications" because of both its frequent failures and inherent vulnerabilities.
What happened to the SATCOM communications?
Mr. Van der Zee told me that the 2nd Radio Officer made an Urgent (XXX) voice call on the SATCOM and that evidently, because the COMSAT operator was not trained in the meaning of the nature of XXX precedence, the COMSAT operator connected the ship to a medical hospital in Kodiak, Alaska. The COMSAT operator had incorrectly assumed that the XXX was a medical emergency (which it could have been), instead of a potentially dangerous situation onboard the vessel. Also, the Master's orders were to send all communications from the ship Urgent (XXX) precedence, as he had not yet declared the situation a Distress (SOS). So both Radio Officers, obeying the commands of the Master, sent all messages, both radio and satcom from the Radio Room as XXX messages, and not as SOS messages.
COMSAT Satellite System failure during distress.
Valuable time was lost in the mishandling of the calls on the MARISAT. Later, in an effort to correct this situation, COMSAT issued a bright orange adhesive backed sticker to be attached to the SATCOM with the correct telex numbers for the appropriate Rescue Coordination Centers (RCC). COMSAT blamed the confusion on the PRINSENDAM's Radio Officer as he had not dialed the correct number for the RCC that would handle the distress. The Morse 500 kHz system does not require the Radio Officer to dial the correct number for the RCC as in the COMSAT system. In fact with the Morse Distress system, the Radio Officer can speak directly with those effecting aid, and the Master of the vessel in distress can coordinate his own rescue.
How COMSAT handles Distress Communications.
After the incident, I wrote to COMSAT in Washington, D.C., proposing to trade a copy of my Distress Log for a copy of COMSAT's Distress Log. (I was one of the two Radio Officers onboard the WILLIAMSBURGH which took control of the distress communications after the PRINSENDAM lost her Main Transmitter and needed to switch to her battery radio set.) I was told by COMSAT that they consider all distress communications to be confidential. This is clearly in violation of the Communications Act of the United States which states that distress communications are not protected by the privacy provisions of the Act. Also, COMSAT charges for the distress and related communications in violation of 47 CFR 80.95(a) which prohibits the charging for such traffic. Morse stations and other marine radio stations do not charge for distress communications. COMSAT, it seems, intends to charge for everything. COMSAT told me and others if I wanted a record of the distress communications - which is public information - that I'd have to take them to court. They told this to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which incidentally has administrative review over COMSAT, and the U.S. Coast Guard.
How the U.S.C.G. handled the PRINSENDAM distress communications.
During the PRINSENDAM distress, I took over control of the distress communications at the request of the PRINSENDAM, rather than relegating this to the U.S. Coast Guard Communications Station in Kodiak, Alaska (COMSTA KODIAK/NOJ). I told NOJ that I would do this if the Coast Guard did not put a competent operator on the distress circuit within ten minutes. They did not do this, so the WILLIAMSBURGH took over the distress communications. The operator at COMSTA KODIAK/NOJ on duty that night could not copy at commercial speeds. (The minimum requirement for a commercial radiotelegraph license is twenty words per minute Morse, however, the Coast Guard, being military is exempt from having such qualified operators.) Although distress communications (SOS) are required by international law to be sent originally at slow speed, the regulations also allow the operators to resume regular commercial speeds of sending. The operator at NOJ could not copy the minimum commercial speed. After my warning time had elapsed, and the Coast Guard had failed to put a qualified operator on duty, I sent out my first Auto Alarm signal (a series of four second dashes with a one second space) and followed this by a general call to all stations and a rebroadcast of the of the original message from the PRINSENDAM. I sent out three such SOS relays that night, bringing the total number of Auto Alarms sent to four, the PRINSENDAM having sent one herself.
In the Gulf of Alaska on the night of the distress the nearest ship to the PRINSENDAM was the U.S. flag ship WESTWARD VENTURE, a Ro-Ro ship owned by TOTE express from Tacoma, Washington, which is currently exempted from carrying a radio officer because it supposedly stays within 150 NM from shore at all times. I have heard that they cannot stay within 150 NM without missing their twice weekly schedule between Tacoma and Anchorage. In fact, they keep an Alaskan pilot onboard for the entire voyage because their tight schedule does not even permit the slight deviation to the Homer, Alaska pilot station to pick up a pilot.
How well the various Communications Systems worked.
The 500 kHz Auto Alarms were overwhelmingly responsible for the response to the distress calls. The late Mr. Walter Weaver of the Aviation and Marine Bureau of the FCC told me that over 350 ships had been alerted by 500 kHz Morse radiotelegraphy during the SOS. During the PRINSENDAM SOS, I asked COMSTA KODIAK/NOJ to send out a voice distress relay on 2182 kHz voice distress using their auto alarm and their high powered transmitters and high antenna. However, only one new vessel responded to that call on 2182 kHz voice. Yet, during the distress on 500 kHz Morse, I received calls from many ships, some even from across the International Date Line. Even the Canadian manned weather ship OCEAN STATION PAPA/4YP hauled anchor and was proceeding to scene of the distressed vessel.
500 kHz MORSE: 350+
2182 kHz VOICE: 1
COMSAT SATELLITE: NONE
I have been told by crew members on certain tankers which are now running without radio officers that there is a standing order to reset the auto alarm three times before investigating. If it rings a fourth time, they are told to start up a code reader or tape recorder to see if there is a distress. The PRINSENDAM distress is the only distress to my knowledge that had as many as four transmissions of Auto Alarm signals.
Mr. Joseph Hersey, Chief Marine Radio Policy Branch, U.S.C.G. in his response to R/O Ford in the Fall 1989 issue of Mariners Weather Log states that ships can more effectively communicate with USCG Radio stations (COMSTA's) on HF SITOR teleprinter than on 500 kHz Morse. This is true after a fashion. Although the U.S.C.G. has some qualified operators, it seems that most of the operators on watch on the 500 kHz distress position at various COMSTAs are incompetent. Most often these operators will answer anything starting with the letter "N" because all U.S.C.G. COMSTAs have call signs starting with the letter "N". This often results in considerable confusion when a station is calling a U.S.N.S. vessel whose call sign also starts with the letter "N". Also, it is not at all unusual to hear a ship only tens of miles away from the COMSTA calling repeatedly, and when finally answered, the ship usually has to send and resend her traffic several times at very slow speed in order for the Coast Guard operator to copy it.
U.S.C.G. personnel keep poor radio watch; Civilian manned stations are far superior.
For example, on the afternoon of 25 March 1990, U.S.C.G. Cutter SENACA/NFMK in position latitude 3843' North, longitude 75 37' West called U.S.C.G. COMSTA PORTSMOUTH VIRGINIA (NMN), located at 3647'00"N 7620'00"W, for over forty minutes on 500 kHz: a distance of approximately 121 nautical miles (NM) from NMN. I called NMN several times on 500 kHz to tell him that one of our Coast Guard cutters, the USCGC SENACA, was calling, but only after I called NMN at 2057 GMT using an extremely slow code speed of five words per minute did NMN answer on 500 kHz. My ship the SS KING/WAKL was located at 3157'27"N 7803'57"W, a distance of 302.5 NM from NMN. I also made one call on 500 kHz at 20 WPM to YARMOUTH COAST GUARD RADIO/VAU (Canada) (4444'24"N 6607'19"W) at 2109 GMT, and VAU immediately answered me from a distance of 906 NM. The operators at Canadian Coast Guard Radio Stations are civilian operators who have to be good to keep their jobs, and they can operate at normal commercial speeds (25 to 35 WPM).
Our Coast Guard COMSTAs are a national and international embarrassment.
Our COMSTAs are a disgrace to commercial operators everywhere. Contrast their performance with the excellent communications by the Canadian Coast Guard which is made up of qualified civilians. They average one call for a ship to contact any of their stations on 500 kHz Morse and 2182 kHz voice. Their SITOR teleprinter, VHF and HF SSB operators are all qualified Morse operators, and their performance is top notch. Which quality of operator would you rather have on duty if you had distress messages?
Mr. Hersey also notes that an aircraft may reach a ship long before nearby ships can reach the vessel in distress. Of what use is this in storming seas? The distressed vessel will most likely have to wait for a rescue ship in any event. He also says that the older Morse system has the disadvantage in relying on, and therefore limited by the need for another vessel or coast station to be relatively close. (He says a distance of 250 NM, a distance which appears to be arbitrarily chosen as it is neither the maximum range of an auto alarm signal nor the maximum range of regular communications from a vessel on 500 kHz during day or night conditions.
I disagree with this in its entirety: The value of the Morse Distress System lies in the fact that it will notify nearby vessels. It is better that the rescue ships be close, because it will take less time for them to reach the distressed vessel.
The Morse Distress System uses a frequency of 500 kHz which exhibits an enormous groundwave giving it the ability to propagate long distances without skipping over an area. Also, the closer the receiving station is to the distressed vessel, the higher is the signal strength and the probability of triggering an alarm, or alerting the operator.
Mr. Hersey states that the USCG's experience with survival craft radios has been poor. I have tested and used the life boat radio on every ship on which I've been employed. I have communicated with stations using Life Boat radios on 500 kHz and 8364 kHz (lifeboat distress) from distances of 200 NM and 800 NM respectively during the daylight hours when signals, as a rule, do not propagate as far.
Mr. Hersey also refers to what I would prefer to call the MISUSE of Equivalents: Those ships sailing without a Radio Officer, and who for all practical purpose are out of the 500 kHz SAFETY NET. On what are these unlucky souls to depend if not the reliable 500 kHz Distress System? They have the VHF on the bridge, and of course 2182 kHz voice distress, the effectiveness of which has been noted in my observations on the PRINSENDAM distress. They also have SATCOM with which they can alert a RCC, which may be thousand of miles away, to help them. But in order to send a distress on the SATCOM everything must be in perfect order because if there is anything that isn't perfect, the ship cannot communicate with anyone. The ship can only send a distress message if the SATCOM is working, if the SATCOM antenna is not shielded by deck or other obstruction (when a vessel is listing, the antenna may not be able to see the satellite), if the dish antenna can position itself correctly in rough seas, if there is absolutely nothing wrong with the entire system, if there is not even one bit of information wrong in the terminal's satellite access request code, if the request burst from the ship SATCOM doesn't collide with another such request, if the satellite isn't experiencing interference on the request channel, and if that SATCOM satellite is functioning correctly, and if the satellite system is not completely down as it has been in the recent months of 1990 (In January and May 1990, the entire Atlantic Ocean was without communications because of SATCOM failure). Then and only then can the SATCOM system even begin to try to contact anyone.
If 500 kHz U.S.C.G. watch is bad, then 2182 kHz Voice Distress is hopeless.
By comparison, USCG watchkeeping on 500 kHz is actually good when compared to their 2182 kHz distress Voice watchkeeping where it is not uncommon for vessels to never be answered by the USCG, or ships not manned by a dedicated Radio Officer. This is true in spite of the fact that the USCG has many more operators and stations guarding 2182 kHz Voice Distress than it has on 500 kHz where it has only the COMSTAs (in Boston, MA; Portsmouth, VA; Miami, FL; New Orleans, LA; Long Beach, CA; San Francisco, CA; Astoria, WA; Guam; Honolulu, HI; and Kodiak, AK) keeping watch. At these COMSTAs it is customary practice to have just one operator on 500 kHz Morse Distress covering all communications within that District. (E.g.: U.S.C.G. COMSTA BOSTON [NMF] covers all the New England coastal waters from Maine to Connecticut, outlying fishing banks in the Atlantic, Long Island Sound, New York Harbor, and other outlying areas and beyond by using receivers in Marshfield, MA and Governors Island, NY, fed to a sole operator standing guard at the station. However, the Coast Guard has very many other outposts that keep watch on 2182 kHz as well as all their surface craft. The U.S. Navy installations and vessels also monitor 2182 Voice. However, as we have seen, it is often hard to get answered, even with all those additional ears listening on 2182 kHz, hovever, once again, the professional civilian operators at the Canadian Coast Guard simply do not have any trouble at all answering even one call (my many hours of watch on 2182 kHz have made this a dependable fact.) If the U.S.C.G.'s other personnel are as incompetent as these radiomen seem to be, or if they are having great difficulity in attracting quality recruits, then we should dissolve our Coast Guard and replace it with a new organization staffed by qualified employees from our maritime colleges, seasoned seagoing merchant mariners, and other experienced personnel, who want to do this kind of work by choice.
F.C.C. and U.S.C.G. Radio Hanky-panky.
During the recent closing of the State of Maryland's Morse station BALTIMORE RADIO/WMH, the FCC pointed out in its Final Report and Order that the Coast Guard had primary responsibility for guarding 500 kHz distress in the U.S.A., and that this being so, Commercial stations like WMH were not needed to guard 500 kHz, so the F.C.C. permitted the State of Maryland to close the station. However, within months of the closing of WMH, the USCG terminated its Morse 500 kHz watch at COMSTA SAN JUAN PUERTO RICO/NMR, and closed the entire station down with the exception of NAVTEX, the automated Notices to Mariners safety broadcast on 518 kHz. At a recent marine advisory group meeting in New Orleans in May 1990, the U.S.C.G. made it increasingly clear that it wants to abandon 500 kHz watchkeeping entirely.
In a letter to me from Mr. Foosner, then Chief of the FCC's Private Radio Bureau which oversees the Aviation and Marine Department of the FCC, he said that the FGMDSS would be thoroughly tested before it superseded the present Morse System. It hasn't and probably will never be tested properly The F.C.C. has also reduced the availability of examination times for the First and Second Radiotelegraph licenses which are necessary for a new Radio Officer to obtain prior to employment. A few years ago the F.C.C. gave daily examinations, now it is twice yearly with prior advance notice required. The required six months sea service endorsement for these licenses which permits a Radio Officer to sail as sole operator has also been made increasingly difficult to obtain. Mr. William Luther, an F.C.C. consultant, has published data from both the new radiotelegraph licenses and the six months endorsements and juggled them to make it appear that interest in this license is diminishing. Mr. Luther did not take into account the fact that the F.C.C. has made the license more difficult to take, and that there were many more endorsements and licenses issued during the period when the F.C.C. exams were easier to attend and the documentation required for the six months endorsement simpler.
LABOR'S COOPERATION WITH FGMDSS.
Marine Engineer's Beneficial Association-Associated Marine Officers District 2 (MEBA D2) has helped the shipowners remove their Radio Officers from their ships. The union "represents" Radio Officers on certain ships. Some of these ships have had important firsts. The U.S. flag's first passenger ships to be exempted from carrying Radio Officers, the CONSTITUTION and the INDEPENDENCE were "represented" by MEBA D2. The first U.S. flag cargo ship to be exempted from carrying a Radio Officer, the MV BRAVADO (which according to my information runs with a total crew of only seven crewmembers) was "represented" by MEBA D2. The first cargo ships traveling through Canadian waters to Alaska to be exempted, the WESTWARD VENTURE and the GREAT LAND, were likewise "represented" by MEBA D2. MEBA D2 ships running from Panama to Alaska were the first also to be exempted from carrying Radio Officers.
MEBA D2 Vice President Mr. Jerome E. Joseph told me in a telephone interview on February 25, 1987, that MEBA D2'S position was that the shipping companies and not the F.C.C. or the U.S.C.G. or any other government organization were to decide what was or wasn't required for safety. When I mentioned that before the TITANIC disaster, certain "thrifty" shipping companies had decided to save money on lifeboats by not installing them on both port and starboard sides of the ship, so that if the ship was listing to either side, sufficient lifeboats were available to safe the passengers and crew, and not equipping their ships with the additional safety of having morse radio equipment and qualified personnel to operate and maintain it, he declined comment. Over half of the passengers and crew of the TITANIC were lost due to the fact that there were insufficient life boats, and the fact that those who crammed into the available boats were rescued was a tribute to both Radio Officers onboard the TITANIC and their counterparts aboard the rescue ships.
These life saving measures such as port and starboard lifeboats, long range 500 kHz morse radio telegraphy and qualified personnel to operate it and maintain it were mandated in various Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Conventions and have resulted in successful rescues of passengers and crew members who heretofore would have certainly perished.
This same Jerome E. Joseph (who says he doesn't want safety standards dictated to his union by government organizations), in a letter dated April 2, 1987 to Mr. Robert Rogers of Interocean Management Corporation of Philadelphia, states that since the Ro/Ro GREATLAND and the Ro/Ro WESTWARD VENTURE "are or will be on a trade route which will be in compliance with the FCC rule regarding the non-carriage of Radio Operators.(sic)"..."(T)he Collective Bargaining Agreement between your Company and this organization states that the manning scale for each of these vessels shall be the minimum required by law unless otherwise mutually agreed.", decided that if the FCC didn't require Radio Officers on the ships, that the union would not fight their removal. These ships still require a radio operator, albeit not one as highly trained as the formerly employed Radio Officer, but a crewmember with a General Radio Telephone License performs the Radio Duties (with the notable exception of keeping radio watch on long range 500 kHz Morse), and has taken over the duties of the Radio Officer whose job has been lost. Both shipowner and the union (MEBA D2), are discriminating in favor of a less qualified "radio operator". Furthermore MEBA D2, their Washington, DC lobbyist, Mr. Thomas E. Kelly, and their contracted Companies (those companies whose employees were required to be MEBA D2 members and pay $2500 initiation fees and $1300 a year dues) lead the pack in petitioning the FCC for dilution of Radio Officers' training so that Radio Officers could be certified by the FCC as being certified as having served a six month's training period as a second operator on a ship, and hopefully being able to master the morse system, now may lawfully be certified as being qualified to operate as sole Radio Officer on a ship equipped with Morse Telegraphy by sailing on a ship that carried only radiotelephone equipment - equipment that he doesn't even need a radiotelegraph license to operate! It's just like qualifying a interstate tractor trailer driver on an automatic shift subcompact passenger car! These licenses allow for varying levels of skill, while we do not allow inexperienced tractor trailor drivers on our highways, neither should we allow operators who are not experienced in the operation of a manual radiotelegraph system to be certified as qualified to use it. Yet, D2 and its contracted companies suceeded in changing the law, so that this incredible fact is now the law of the land.
Mr. Joseph, also in a speech given on September 17, 1987 at the United States Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, NY, said that "(L)abor's role in determining the size of the crew should be virtually non-existent." and proposed a crew of Master, Chief Engineer, 3 Assistant Officers, and 8 maintenance persons: a total of 13 persons, and notably missing from the roster the Radio Electronics Officer, a skilled ship-board employee that his union is paid to "represent", and on whose behalf the union collects pension money (the money is kept in a multiple employer pension plan that requires ten years to vest, instead of the usual five years it takes regular non-union employees funds to vest) and money for their non-existant radio officer's continuing education courses at the Union's school in Dania, FL.
Satellite outages: Impaired Safety System, our lives at risk.
Recently the SATCOM system has had several outages in early 1990 some of which lasted in excess of six hours. This means if a ship in the ATLANTIC REGION of the satellite needed help, neither she nor any rescue craft could be reached via the Atlantic Satellite. The Atlantic Satellite covers the North and South Atlantic, parts of the South Pacific, Mediterranean, Caribbean, North Sea, Gulf of Mexico, Great Lakes etc. All that area was without satellite communications. Six hours is a long time to be without communications especially when you need help. A ship can sink, and her crew lost, in far less time.
Superstructure shadowing of SATCOM causes communication problems.
In 1984 when aboard the tanker PATRIOT (the MEBA D2 contracted, ex-ZAPATA PATRIOT), the Master ordered me to get immediate help for a man who had collapsed on deck with an apparent heart attack. I called the SATCOM operator using the XXX (URGENT) precedence. The operator attempted to handle the call, but as we were swinging too much, the antenna could not track the satellite. and I repeatedly lost the satellite, even though I quickly repositioned the SATCOM dish antenna to either the Indian Ocean or Pacific satellite depending upon which was not being shadowed by the superstructure of the ship. However, I could not keep the connection long enough make the emergency call. After wasting almost half an hour on the SATCOM, I broadcast an XXX on 500 kHz and it was immediately answered by the Japanese Coast Guard, who had pinpointed my ship by Radio Direction Finding (RDF) (in case signals were lost) and within a very few minutes had dispatched a 'chopper to our position. Sadly, I now realize that one of my favorite shipmates may have survived had I used the dependable 500 kHz Morse System instead of the often trusted SATCOM. The Japanese Coast Guard (JMC) radio operators did their job flawlessly, immediately intercepting my call and dispatching aid to the scene. I've been told that each JMC radio station os staffed with but two people per watch, quite a difference in staffing and performance as compared to our Coast Guard, who it seems makes up for quality with quantity.
The 500 kHz Morse Distress System has the advantages of SATCOM already!
In the Present Distress System, we have all the advantages: We have dependable 500 kHz Morse; access to smaller craft on 2182 kHz voice; access to world wide telephone and data networks via Morse, SITOR, and satellite networks. Why give up this when we have such great flexibility and reliability? We have everything. The FGMDSS will rely upon RCC's, who may or may not know what is happening at a distress, yet it is they who will "call the shots" instead of the on-scene Master. On 500 kHz we have a big party line on which all participants know what's going on - and they are required by law to keep radio logs which are a public record and may be consulted afterwards to see what really did happen. In FGMDSS this will not be so. With the present Morse System we have written logs recording in detail, minute by minute, the events as they unfolded during the distress and not SECRET communications that COMSAT will not release. Now all Distress Communications is public information and relatives of any deceased seaman or passengers will know the true story by simply consulting the Distress Logs any of the many ships and Coast Stations copying the Distress. With the new FGMDSS System, the events will be locked in COMSAT's Computer. If they were so inclined, the various Rescue Coordination Centers, Coast Guards, Ship owners and others could keep the information to themselves, or, at least change it to make them look blameless. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to do this with the present system as there are too many "witnesses" In the future, perhaps only the dead passengers and crew and COMSAT's computer will know the truth.
Why are the F.C.C. and the U.S.C.G. pushing the COMSAT System?
In sponsoring the FGMDSS, the F.C.C. and U.S.C.G. have little to loose in pedaling their influence. After reaching retirement age, FCC and USCG employees could collect a government pension and also sell their influence and so-called expertise by earning a consultant fee at COMSAT. Ex-U.S.C.G. Captain Charles Dorian worked for COMSAT and wrote people telling how they could accomplish their aim of removing their Radio Officers by substituting COMSAT equipment for their traditional radio equipment and Radio Officers. How well paid was he for doing this "service", which denied both the ship's crew and nearby ships the powerful Morse Safety System by making these ship's distress communications nonstandard?
The satellite system is further subsidized by Military Sealift Command's (MSC) exclusive use of the SATCOM system even though other less costly alternatives exist. The U.S.C.G. maintains radio stations that could be used for the purpose of exchanging MSC communications. Even though, use of U.S.C.G. facilities and privately owned U.S. Coast Stations are made by cost conscious Radio Officers in the ship to shore direction, MSC uses COMSAT exclusively in the shore to ship direction. Any additional costs for communications are merely passed on to the U.S. taxpayer.
Late in 1988, the Armed Forces Radio and Television High-Frequency (HF) short-wave stations were closed down to "save money". They are now sent over the COMSAT satellite system (on the same sattelite that we use for communications.) U.S. Navy ships get a decoder free of charge from the U.S. Department of Defense because Congress has mandated that U.S. Armed Forces receive the same news that is available to the general public in the U.S.A. A merchant ship one hundred yards away from the Navy ship cannot receive these broadcasts because the shipowners will not put anything on a ship that costs them, unless it is required by law.
We have no AFRTS satellite receiver, we have no "extra" safety equipment, repairs that aren't a violation of law, are forgone, extra crew members to help out, are dispensed with, the remaining men just work more hours, and seamen being exempt from both minimum wage and overtime laws in the U.S.A., are told to "just keep working", while Coast Guard laws dealing with minimum hours of sleep before watch are laughed at because it is just impossible to do what the companies want without going for sometimes days at a time without sleep. If you don't do what the companies want: YOU GET FIRED! (You may, however, just "get off", but the Company will make sure that you will never sail again with them.) Companies just laugh at the F.C.C. because they have exactly what they want: There is no way to check and see if the Company is within the rules because for years its been the Radio Officer who has made sure that the F.C.C. rules are followed because not only has he a U.S. Coast Guard license, but he has a F.C.C. license: If he screws up, not only will he not work at sea, but he won't work ashore either. Companies are now not being watched because they don't have to submit any documentation of their radio operator, because unlike having a Radio Officer, no separate U.S.C.G. Certificate is issued to the crewmember serving as a radio operator under the exemption, nor are crew lists required for our ships running along the U.S. coast (Coastwise), so unless the F.C.C. comes down to the ship and inspects it, they do not have to show that they are in compliance with the law. The F.C.C. certainly could check on this by making inspections, by using satellite photography to verify that a ship is within the 150 mile limit of operating without a Radio Officer, but funding has been cut, and they are too "poor" to do what they are required to do.
The FCC, which has been appointed by the U.S. Congress to have Administrative Review over COMSAT, has seemingly favored COMSAT over privately owned radio stations. Several years ago, a petition for rule making was filed to allow privately owned marine VHF FM radiotelephone stations who, facing more competition from cellular telephone and other services, wished to sell their services to mobile users not considered in the marine radio service such as cars, trucks and consequently not allowed under current F.C.C. regulations. Their petition was denied. However, COMSAT is now being allowed to sell its marine satellite communications service to aircraft, land vehicles and other users not formerly allowed to use the marine satellite. Many of these new users are within the service areas of privately owned land mobile, aviation, marine, and other radio services whose owners and investors have already committed hard earned capital to provide these services. The fact that the federally backed U.S.Government corporation, COMSAT, has been given a monopoly in the maritime satellite business, and is now being allowed to compete not only with privately owned morse, telex and voice marine stations, but even to expand and compete with other privately owned services seems to have become lost on the current administration which purports to want a free market economy.
The F.C.C. is already allowing less qualified personnel to man ships.
The F.C.C. is already allowing less qualified, perhaps unqualified men to man ships. As reported by Mr. William Coughlin, Maritime Reporter for the Boston Globe, Elkins Institute of Houston, TX has a ten day course in which Masters, Mates and other personnel can cram the ANSWERS for the General Radiotelephone License. (The General Radiotelephone License is the third highest FCC license.) According to the Boston Globe, Elkins Institute has obtained every answer to every question in every versions of the FCC exam. This license is the one required by the FCC and USCG to be held by a crewmember on a ship not carrying a radio officer. According the Globe article, Elkins Institute doesn't have a course for the examination that Radio Officers take because that test "is too technical".
These hastily trained and now lawfully licensed men are then used to remove the ship's Radio Electronics Officer. Now instead of having a Radio Electronics Officer dedicated solely to providing distress, medical, safety, and routine ship navigational and business communications, personal communications for passengers and crew members, maintaining navigational electronics, radar, sonar, terrestrial and satellite communications systems and equipment, these inferiorly licensed crewmembers, in addition to their regular duties, will attempt to perform the duties of the formerly employed Radio Electronics Officer knowing full well that in ten days of studying the answers, they cannot hope to learn what has taken an Radio Electronics Officer years of study and experience.
Mariners deserve the best available Distress System, one which has been improved for over 80 years. They need the dependable 500 kHz Distress System, and they need the talented Radio Officers to maintain it, not some ten day wizard trained by Elkins Institute.
While the Morse Distress System has proven itself time and time again since the days of the Titanic, the FGMDSS, in the slightly expunged words of an experienced Captain, will give new meaning to our "Safety Of Life At Sea", or S.O.L.A.S. Conventions: Simply Outta Luck At Sea!