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Author Topic:   New RESCUE 21 System, NOAA VMS, Save Crew of Fishing Boat
jimh posted 03-17-2008 07:51 PM ET (US)   Profile for jimh   Send Email to jimh  
New RESCUE 21 System, NOAA VMS, Save Crew of CAPT. JOE

On Wednesday, March 12, 2008, the crew of the fishing vessel CAPT. JOE abandoned ship about 30-miles offshore in the Atlantic in stormy seas. Before jumping off their sinking 97-foot commercial fishing boat, at 8:45 p.m. they transmitted a radio MAYDAY message which was picked up by United States Coast Guard monitoring stations using their new RESCUE 21 radio system. About an hour later the crew was being hoisted into a rescue helicopter. A lot of modern technology contributed to the rapid locating of the vessel and the very timely recovery of the crew from 40-degree Atlantic Ocean waters.

As you might imagine, being on a sinking ship 30-miles at sea is a highly stressful situation. The crew made several radio transmission on their VHF Marine Band radio announcing their MAYDAY situation. Because of the distress situation, the crew did not clearly state their position and did not respond to repeated requests from Coast Guard stations trying to contact them. Although the voice transmission of the MAYDAY call did not clearly convey the sinking vessel's position, the Coast Guard RESCUE 21 radio system was able to get an approximate fix of the position of the F/V CAPT. JOE using radio direction finding techniques. The initial rescue aircraft were vectored using the RESCUE 21 location.

"Making that MAYDAY call was the most important thing they did," a Coast Guard spokesman told me.

Also working to the crew's good fortune, the F/V CAPT. JOE was engaged in commercial fishing for Quahog clams. Because of fairly recent changes in fishing regulations to protect and manage certain fisheries, some commercial vessels engaged in some fisheries and in certain areas are required to carry special transponders which report the position of the vessel via a satellite radio relay system, called a Vessel Monitoring System or VMS. The VMS transponder on a commercial fishing vessel transmits the vessel's position to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA fishery agents monitor the vessel position reports to be sure the commercial fishing vessels do not operate in restricted areas. These systems typically report the vessel's position once an hour. Coast Guard rescuers were able to obtain the last position transmitted from the VMS before the sinking. This also helped narrow the search area.

The VMS is not part of the Automatic Identification System (AIS) used worldwide by larger commercial ships. AIS transponders operate on VHF frequencies and have a short range, typically only 20 miles. The VMS system is designed to monitor fishing vessels operating far offshore, and it uses a radio link to orbiting satellites. This permits the VMS transponders to provide vessel position information even when the vessel is hundreds of miles at sea.

No doubt there is a bit of irony here. I suspect that some commercial fishermen were not entirely onboard with the introduction of mandatory monitoring of their vessels by NOAA. But in this case the NOAA VMS system probably contributed to saving the lives of the fishermen on the CAPT. JOE.

VMS transponder systems cost about $4,000, but in some enforcement areas there have been subsidies to offset the cost to the vessel owner to around $500.

RESCUE 21 Home Page

More on NOAA VMS:

GCN Awards Excellence in IT: Law of the seas

Vessel Monitoring System Program
Frequently Asked Questions
Revised April 2007
(Prepared for the Gulf of Mexico Commercial Reef Fish but typical of the VMS system)

Excellent account of the rescue:

jimh posted 03-17-2008 08:00 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
This video report from NBC includes portions of the MAYDAY transmission, and interviews with the Coast Guard personnel who performed the rescue. They explain more about the RESCUE 21 system:

(Sit through the brief promotional announcement before the video begins.)

jimh posted 03-18-2008 09:23 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Compliance with this regulation is what put the VMS satellite relay gear on the CAPT. JOE:

"At 72 FR 51702, Sept. 11, 2007, § 648.4 was
amended by adding paragraph (a)(4)(ii), effective
Jan. 1, 2008. For the convenience of the
user, the added text is set forth as follows:
§ 648.4 Vessel permits.
(a)* * *
(4)* * *
(ii) VMS Requirement. (A) Surfclam and
ocean quahog open access permits. In order to
be eligible for issuance of an open access
surfclam or ocean quahog permit, the vessel
owner must have installed on the vessel an
operational VMS unit that meets the criteria
set forth in § 648.9. The vessel owner/operator
must activate the VMS unit and provide
verification of vendor activation from a
NMFS-approved VMS vendor as described in
§ 648.9. Verification is done by completing,
signing, and mailing or faxing a VMS certification
form to the NMFS Northeast Region
Office of Law Enforcement.


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