Talks to Improve Distress Signals

Article excerpt

BYLINE: CRAIG McKUNE

WHEN the crew of the yacht, Moquini, ran into trouble somewhere between Durban and Mauritius in 2005, rescue co-ordinators struggled to respond to their only distress signal.

A problem hindering the rescue efforts was that the signal, picked up by an orbiting satellite, did not carry enough information and rescuers couldn't pinpoint the boat's location. Six people died and the yacht's hull was found abandoned five months later.

This week, international experts meet in Cape Town in an ongoing effort to improve the satellite-based global search-and-rescue network.

Since South Africa joined the network in 2001 - called Cospas-Sarsat - 326 lives had been saved in the region, and 323 of these were in the past year after more efficient distress beacons were made compulsory in aircraft and ships.I

This was according to deputy director-general for Transport, Zakhele Thwala, who yesterday opened the 23rd Session of the Cospas-Sarsat joint committee in Cape Town.

The system allows distress signals to be sent from planes, boats and land-based vehicles, and are relayed by a constellation of satellites to the nearest available ground stations. The information is then sent to mission control and centres that co-ordinate rescue efforts.

South Africa's signing on for the network filled a void in coverage extending from the northern Democratic Republic of Congo to the South Pole, including St Helena island in the Atlantic and the Prince Edward Islands in the Southern Ocean. …