Mar 142010

Six seafarers might still be alive but for the sake of a $100 optional extra for an EPIRB and correct registration. In the wake of investigations into the sinking of the scalloper Lady Mary with six lives lost the US National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB, has called for EPIRBS to be fixed with a GPS receiver, currently an optional extra costing about $100.

Lady Mary sank on 23 March, 2009, at about 0510. A geostationary SARSAT satellite picked up the vessel’s EPIRB distress signal at 0540. Because the EPIRB was not equipped with a GPS receiver there was no accurate position information. A LEO satellite, which could have detected the vessel’s position passed overhead shortly before Lady May sank and it was not until 0707 that the LEO satellite returned and 0715 when NOAA could determine the precise position of the EPIRB.

It was not until 0820 that a Coast Guard helicopter arrived at the scene, 2.5 to three hours after the sinking. With survival times, with immersion suits, of two to three hours, the delay in determining the ship’s position may have had a significant impact on the survival of the seafarers.

A second issue is that the EPIRB had not been correctly registered NOAA could not give information to the Coast Guard about the vessel, or emergency contacts ashore. Lady Mary was only identified because of the name printed on the immersion suit of one of the dead crewmembers pulled from the sea.

The NTSB has asked the Federal Communications Commission to mandate that on commercial vessels EPIRBs broadcast position information when activated.

Obviously, an FCC mandate only applies to US vessels but the lessons of the Lady Mary disaster apply elsewhere:

Fit your EPIRB with a GPS receiver.

Make sure your EPIRB is properly registered.

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