South Africa’s regularly updated sea and air search capabilities receive a thumbs up from international partners

Pretoria: 28 April 2022

South Africa’s regular testing of its maritime and aviation search and rescue (SAR) tools and equipment, along with deployment in Gauteng recently of the latest MEOSAR system, has been met with approval and appreciation by its international partners in the COSPAS SARSAT Programme, according to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), and Department of Transport (DoT).

The country’s positive assessments came during a three day South West Pacific Data Distribution Regional (SWPDDR) meeting, to which South Africa is a member State, hosted by the DoT and SAMSA earlier this month (11-14 April) – this after a delay of almost two years due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in late 2019.

The SWPDDR whose Mission Control Centre (MCC) sits with Australia, is one of six across the globe under the COSPAS SARSAT Programme. MCCs – totalling 32 under the COSPAS-SARSAT Programme – are described as centres that take information from a Local User Terminal (LUC) or another MCC and routes it to the proper desistation.

Reflecting on the outcomes of the SWPDDR meeting were Mr Jared Blows, Chief of the Maritime Rescue Coordinating Centre (MRCC) located at the SAMSA Centre for Seawatch & Response in Cape Town; and Mr Zakhele Twala, DoT’s Deputy Director General: Aviation.

Mr Zakhele Twala. Deputy Director-Gneral: Aviation Department of Transport

Mr Twala said the country was proud of its successful hosting of the event, even as a virtual event due to the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak, but also particularly pleased with its outcomes that reflected on the importance of close cooperation and collaboration among participating countries.

In the video below (duration: 3.10minutes), he elaborates on key aspects of the gathering.

At SAMSA, Mr Blows described the meeting “…deemed as very fruitful deliberations.” With regards the country, lauded by SWPDDR members were two significant developments regarding maritime and aviation search and rescue services as managed by South Africa that included the adoption of the S&R MEOSAR system and installation of ground equipment in Gauteng.

Advantages of the MEOSAR system are listed as including,

  • near instantaneous worldwide detection and independent location determination (independent of beacon-reported navigation data) of 406-MHz beacons,
  • significantly reduced effect of terrain/wreckage obstructions,
  • extensive reduncancy/reliability in space and ground segments,
  • improved location accuracy,
  • improved beacons and features including
    • a Return Link Service (RLS) and
    • redudant localisation of ELT-DTS (validating or back-up of locations through the reported navigation and independent calculations, even at high speeds.

The other development was South Africa’s continuous testing of its system’s communications via various platforms that significantly improved the country’s response rate from a low 50% to above 85% currently

Mr Jared Blows. Maritime Rescue Coordinating Centre (MRCC Chief: SAMSA Centre for Seawatch & Response

Mr Blows said: “With the ongoing evolution of the COSPAS SARSAT system it  is vital for South Africa, as a ground segment provider to the larger COSPAS SARSAT programme, to remain at the fore front of all developments within the system.

“To this end South Africa has committed to move to the MEOSAR system from the current LEOSAR system and installation of the ground equipment has already taken place and is located in Gauteng whereas the older LEOSAR is based in the Western Cape.

“The meeting specifically looked at the processes and time frames for the full commissioning of the new system which will be necessary to ensure the entire COSPAS SARSAT MEOSAR programme moves closer to becoming a fully operational system which will improve the capability and reduce the time between potential satellite detections of distress beacons carried on vessels and aircraft and even some beacons used by hikers etc.

“All these beacon would need to be compliant with the COSPAS SARSAT requirements and must transmit on the 406 Mhz  frequency,” he said.

Further, according to Mr Blows, the meeting to which guests included representatives of the United States of America and the United Kingdom, discussions were held also in terms of additional advancement to specifically EPIRBs – maritime beacons; such as the inclusion of Automated Identification System( AIS) and also the Return Link Service (RLS).

On this score, he said it was held that participating countries need to assess their readiness for the use of such beacons within their areas of responsibility. To this end, said Mr Blows, in certain instances legislation would need to be amended and operational procedures amended to accommodate such advancements.

On the critical role the country plays in the COSPAS SARSAT Programme block, Mr Blows said: “With South Africa serving 14 countries within our Data Region, we are required to test communications with these countries on a regular basis.

“However, for many years several of our regional partners often did not respond to these tests of which the results are communicated to the COSPAS SARSAT programme, resulting in the region seeming like a very poorly covered area. To change the perception and because of new technologies such as WhatsApp messaging etc becoming very common, South Africa tested the communications via various platforms and as result our response rate now sits at above 85% compared to previous years lows of 50%.

“The critical importance to note here is that, if and when we are alerted of any distress situations related to beacon activation with the countries we support we now have a far better chance of actually being able to pass along the information to the authorities with those countries for them to render assistance as necessary.

“This initiative by South Africa has been commended by the COSPAS SARSAT programme and was even mentioned and thought to be an excellent use of technology when discussed at a previous meeting of the IMO NCSR meeting.

“These matters will be discussed at length within the South African Search and Rescue forum over the coming weeks and a final position will be communicated via the relevant means. As things develop with our MEOSAR system and any new system and beacon development we will try and keep the users in the air and maritime environments informed,” said Mr Blows.

End

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