Friday, May 23, 2008

EPIRBs - The Robin Storm/gCaptian Investigation Continues


EPIRBs - The Robin Storm/gCaptain Investigation Continues...

oth Captain John Konrad of gCaptain and I have written much on the importance of GPIRBs and EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon's) for the maritime and boating communities. Or (Radio Distress Beacons) that include aviation and personal distress beacons.

GPIRB/EPIRBs are critical life safety devises that every mariners life depends on when "Ship Happens".

Our investigation started with the malfunction of the
ACR Globalfix 406 Cat II aboard the Sean Seamour II.

For some background on this incident refer to my July 2007 posting,
EPIRBs and the s/v Sean Seamour II , and Captain John Konrad's posting EPIRB Failure aboard the “Sean Seamour

Since the sinking of this sailboat and
rescue of its crew we have focused on those EPIRBs and GPIRBs that have been reported either as not working or have malfunctioned.

In all fairness to the manufactures of EPIRBs and GPIRBS. These devises normally operate with great success and are credited with saving many lives. They are extremely important pieces of life safety equipment that all mariners need to take seriously. Moreover when they fail, they can for a
number of reasons. Some mechanical, some weather related, some because of poor maintenance, some because of improper registration and some fail because of the poor positioning by mariners on their vessels or they just don't turn them on. These devises are like smoke detectors or intruder alarms in ones home.

If you do not install the smoke detector properly the odds are it just might not detect the initial stages of combustion or warn late of a fire. If you don't activate your homes burglar alarm then you can bet your not protected and wasting your money.

Since the sinking of the Sean Seamour II, we have been tracking the reports of EPIRBs and GPIRBs that have failed to transmit the emergency beacon signal or failed for one reason or another. What we found is that the Sean Seamour II is not the only incident or report of a malfunction or report of a GPIRB/EPIRB not working. The cases of the
F/V Papa George, F/V Illusion the F/V Ellie B and recently the F/V Sav-A-Buck just to note a few examples of reported failures.

To date the investigation continues. What we have found so far raises concern. While there are independent test reports on why GPIRB and EPIRB might fail to some degree. There is very limited follow up when they do actually fail. Again the reasons are many and they include, the lost of the GPIRB/EPIRB during the incident at sea or a waterway and the lack of a formal reporting procedure or failure data base. More frightening still, is how many mariners never make it back to report or relate what happened.
It seems that no one knows for sure what the actual failure rates are of the 75, 000 + GPIRB/EPIRBs in the NOAA 406 MHz registry data base and now with the 406 MHz ELTs and PLBs the number of 406 MHz Emergency Beacons registered now totals over 82,000.

While many, many private boats have GPIRBs and EPIRBs and many commercial vessels are required by US Law to have a certified and inspected EPIRB/GPIRB on board and while the regulation calls for the United States Coast Guard (USCG) to conduct a informal failure investigation of any USCG Certified and Inspected Life Safety devise, which includes a EPIRB and or GPIRB. The USCG just does not have the proper staffing, funding or facilities to conduct such testing independently.

Additionally it is my understanding that of these 75,000 to 80,000 + units in NOAA's registry, it appears that no one knows how many GPIRB/EPIRBs are still operational and how many are not. While there are regulations concerning registering and certifying these devises. There are no requirements to report a EBIRB or GPIRB that is no longer certified or operational. Like your cars licenses plate, when you get a new one you must turn it in so the motor vehicles department can make the appropriate changes in their data base. Well it appears that this does not happen with EPIRBs and GPIRBs.

We are pressing for the US House Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Marine Transportation to conduct both an investigation into these deficiencies and potentially hold formal hearings in the future.

Again I cannot stress enough the importance and success rate of both the GPIRB and EPIRB to the maritime and boating communities. They are credited with saving many lives. To date worldwide some 22, 058 people have been rescued since 1982. 5, 842 in the United States since 1982 and 94 this year in the US alone.

But if we can save just one more life by fortifying the registration data base and understanding the cause and effect of a failure. That is money and time very well spent.


I also wish at this time to make a important correction to MAIS - Maritime Podcast Episode 22 that both Captain John Konrad and I did on GPIRB/EPIRBs. I made a mistake that was brought to my attention by a listener, which I was able to confirm.

During the podcast I stated that NOAA handles all GPIRB/EPIRB Registrations. Well in reality
NOAA COSPAS-SARSAT is a partnership with 29 other Nation States and is only responsible for the registration of GPIRB/EPIRBs that are owned and operated by vessels registered in the United States. Each Nation State that is a partner is responsible for their respective registries.

So if your GPIRB/EPIRB is registered in the United States then
NOAA COSPAS-SARSAT is the agency you should be checking with to verify the hexadecimal code with. If your registered with one of the other 29 Nation States then you must check the registry with that Nation State.


We are recommending that all mariners who own GPIRB/EPIRBs make sure that: 1. They are properly registered with the Nation State that the vessel is registered with. If you own one that is not registered please take the time and register it. Registration is free.

We are also recommending that all mariners check the hexadecimal code with that Nation State. If you are US registered there are a couple of ways to achieve this. 1. You can write the NOAA registry at COSPAS-SARSAT,
NSOF, E/SP3, 4231 Suitland Road, Suitland, MD 2. You can call COSPAS-SARSAT at 301.817.4515 or toll free: at 888.212.7283. 3. Fax them at 301.817.4565. Provide them with all the information on the GPIRB/EPIRB including the boat/vessel/aircraft and owners identification which the devise is registered to.

4. You can check on-line if the GPIRB/EPIRB is already registered by clicking on the link below...

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Once again check and make sure that your GPRIB/EPIRB's certification and maintenance is in order and was done properly by which ever service company was used. Even if this means calling them. Lastly, we ask all mariners who's GPIRB/EPIRBs are no longer operational to contact their respective Nation State registries and cancel out the registration.

DO NOT ACTIVATE THE GPIRB/EPIRB TO TEST IT! Talk about all hell breaking out....

While your checking this equipment why not check the rest of your life safety equipment, such as all flotation devises, beacons, rafts, radio's, flare guns etc.... Do it now and do not wait until your underway. Remember also filing a "Float Plan" is not a bad idea. Who knows it just might be your life it saves one day. The idea is to make it easy for rescue agencies to locate you. No matter if your sailing transatlantic or floating on a lake or bay.

I will also add that it appears that the other Nation States that are partnered with NOAACOSPAT-SARSAT seem to have the same problems that we are covering here. It just might be something that the
International Maritime Organization (IMO) may have to get involved with.

We will keep you posted as our investigation continues. If any of our readers have heard or know of a reported GPIRB/EPIRB failure(s) just contact me here at Robin Storm or Captain John Konrad at


You Only Live Twice - rescued (again)

Last week we reported the rescue of two oarsmen and their boat, Sunny, who had set out to row from Subic Bay (Philippines) to Hebe Haven (Hong Kong) to raise money for The Sunnyside Club and Children’s Cardiac Care Hong Kong – and incidentally become the first people ever to make the 600 nm crossing in a rowing boat.

The attempt turned sour when unexpectedly bad weather – and even worse forecast weather - caused the voyage to be abandoned. After a full HKMRCC (Hong Kong Marine Rescue Coordination Centre) organised operation, the two rowers, Stu Pryke and John Graham, were rescued by a container ship and transported back to Manila. The boat, Sunny, was taken in tow at 16 kts or more but (not surprisingly) the towline snapped.

That really should have been the end of the story – big pat on the back for the rescue services, congratulations on top quality seamanship for the commercial shipping involved, bad luck lads, nice try, game over, sorry it didn’t work out, glad that you are alive and well.

But Sunny had on board a tracking device, put there for safety and PR reasons, and it was still transmitting. The temptation of knowing where the boat was, and a lull in the weather, proved too much for Pryke who chartered a 65’ sailing yacht, the Sailabout, complete with two Filipino crew and owner Jon Young, to go and look for and hopefully salvage the rowing boat.

According to the Subic2Hebe Challenge website (Wednesday14 May), 'Time (is) the essence as there is some pretty foul weather forecast in the area for Friday through to Monday with another warning from Typhoon 2000 that another Tropical Cyclone is assured in the next 24-48 hours.' At the same time they noted, 'In our favour the weather is bad enough for the Philippine fishing fleet to be safe at anchor so there are not many boats out there that could throw a line on her (and claim salvage).'

Then, knowing full well that there was some nasty weather ‘out there’, they sailed straight into the forecast bad weather that had contributed to the abandonment of the rowing attempt in the first place.

During Friday 16 May TD Halong (Cosme) continued to strengthen, and at 16.30 hrs Pryke made a satphone call advising that they were abandoning all attempts to retrieve Sunny, and asking that Hong Kong MRCC be advised of their position 'in case things got worse overnight' – and Sailabout started heading back towards the shelter of a Philippines’ port. Sunny was declared ‘abandoned’ in high seas and winds in excess of 50 kts. At 0650 hrs on 17 May, Pryke made another call: MAYDAY - two hatches had failed, Sailabout was taking on water, and boat and crew were in 'grave danger'.

UK authorities picked up a signal from an unregistered personal EPIRB and passed the alert on to HK MRCC, who were able to confirm that Pryke did in fact own a personal EPIRB. Then, as the position of the EPIRB transmission and the last reported position of the yacht were very close, fixed wing aircraft from Hong Kong and the Philippines were despatched to search. Two commercial vessels, the LPG tanker ‘Mill Reef’ and container ship Evergreen Uni Prudent were diverted to assist from about 100 nm away.

At 1645 hrs Mill Reef advised that they had rescued all four crew members from Sailabout, and were heading for Yantian port, Shenzhen, China on the north shore of Mirs Bay. Winds at the time were a steady 50+ knots, gusting 70 knots.

Sailabout was abandoned and has either sunk or is drifting. All the ‘rescuees’ travel documents were lost in the operation - arrangements were made for Pryke, Young, and the two Filipinos to be taken off the Mill Reef in Hong Kong waters as this entailed less complications than their landing without documentation in China. ETA, Monday pm.

We are, of course, delighted to hear that Pryke and his companions are (once more) safe and sound.

And (once more) a big round of applause for the HK MRCC, the HK Government Flying Service, and the Philippine SAR services. A vote of thanks, too, to the Captains and crews of the Mill Reef and the Uni Prudent who were there when they were needed, in the best traditions mutual assistance at sea, and who displayed seamanship of the highest order in responding to a distress call under ferocious weather conditions.

However, we are not prepared to be so congratulatory about the actions that caused the second rescue to be necessary. Being retrieved from severe weather in the South China Sea once is noteworthy, and definitely worth a few beers in the telling at the Club, but causing yourself to be rescued twice – from much the same place – in similar conditions - within a week – suggests a level of recklessness and lack of judgment that is hard to fathom.

We seriously question the wisdom of sailing straight out into the developing storm that had helped send them back to the Philippines in the first place. By doing so, a huge number of people have been massively, needlessly and expensively inconvenienced. Lives have been put at risk, and a great deal of money has been spent for… what? Nothing. Except that now there is a 65’ sailing boat missing, presumed lost, as well as an ocean rowing boat.

In some parts of the world such behaviour would be rewarded with arrest, and charges being laid against the perpetrators – Subic2Hebe Challenge should be thankful that this is not the case in either Hong Kong or the Philippines. We do not advocate mandatory charging for rescues at sea – that could lead to at least two very unpleasant scenarios: one, where a vessel refuses to render assistance unless (somehow) assurance is given that the bill is going to be paid; and two, that mariners in distress leave it 'too late' in asking for assistance because they fear the financial consequences – and by too late we mean that the rescue services are then exposed to even more severe risk than if the call had been made earlier.

However, since this was a fund-raising exercise in the first place, maybe the Subic2Hebe Challenge would like to reimburse the Hong Kong and Philippines rescue agencies for their expenditure, Jon Young for the loss of his boat, and the Mill Reef and the Uni Prudent for their inconvenience and lost commercial time?

No doubt this tale will be rumbling around the bars for a while yet. There is certainly plenty of ‘comment’ being expressed that has come to my notice already.

Please note that these comments are specifically my opinion, and do not necessarily represent the views of or its other Editors.

Guy Nowell
Editor, Sail-World Asia


Study: Early Warnings May Boost Tornado Deaths

Tuesday , May 20, 2008

By Clara Moskowitz

With the most deadly tornadoes, even advanced warning may not reduce fatalities, according to a new study.

Though the results are based on only a few cases, scientists found that with the worst tornadoes, increasing the warning time may actually increase the number of deaths they cause.

The researchers say they don't have enough evidence to conclude that greater advance notice is a bad thing, but their findings do indicate that more warning time alone may not be the answer to tornado threats.

"If an F-5 [the most severe type of tornado] hits your house, unless you're in a [reinforced] safe room, it probably doesn't matter if you had two minutes of warning or an hour of warning," said Kevin Simmons, an economist at Austin College in Texas who conducted the study with economist Daniel Sutter at the University of Texas-Pan American. "That thing is so powerful, there's a pretty high probability you're going to be injured or killed."

Better warning systems

The researchers analyzed data from more than 18,000 tornadoes in the United States between 1986 and 2002.

Overall, they found that early warning is very helpful: On average it reduced expected injuries by about 32 percent.

This finding seems to agree with historical trends: Between 1925 and 2000, the annual fatality rate from tornadoes in the United States went down from 1.8 per million residents to 0.11 per million. Many experts attribute this decline to improved warning systems.

But when the researchers examined data from the most severe cases — the 300 out of 18,000 tornadoes in which people died — the effects of advanced warning were less clear.

Overall, when people were notified of a tornado up to about 15 minutes ahead of time, deaths decreased. However, lead times greater than 15 minutes seemed to increase fatalities compared with no warning.

The scientists think this result is explained by a handful of the most severe storms.

"If you just look at it on the surface, you could come up with the conclusion that extra warning doesn't pay off," Simmons told LiveScience. "But when you break it down and look at what's driving that result, you find that the storms that are much larger are also the storms that are on the ground the longest, and those storms are the easiest ones to detect, so they're almost inevitably going to have longer lead times."

Encouraging dangerous behavior?

The researchers didn't have information about how the people died in those tornadoes, so they can't assess whether the increased warning time simply didn't help enough, or actually added to the fatalities.

"The concern is that longer lead times would encourage dangerous behavior," Simmons said. "There is anecdotal evidence that came out of the tornadoes in Oklahoma and Missouri last week. Out of the 23 fatalities, eight were people in cars. I don't know if those people were trying to outrun the storm, or if they just happened to be in their cars."

If a tornado is heading your way, you are much more likely to be injured or killed in your car than you are at home, Simmons said. Perhaps earlier warnings encourage people to think they can outrun tornadoes when they'd be safer to stay at home.

"Our policy recommendation is not that we don’t need to increase lead times," Simmons said. "It's not that at all. It's that these large storms may not be as responsive to lead times, so what else can you do?"

Other helpful tactics aimed at improving tornado safety are designs for building safe rooms in houses and community hideout shelters that can withstand tornado winds.

Also, since early warnings do help most of the time, the researchers advocate the use of radios tuned to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Weather Radio network, which broadcasts county-specific weather warnings.

Radios can be left on these stations all night (when people are unlikely to see a warning on TV), and will only alert a person if there is danger in their immediate area.

Forecasters Expect Few Hurricanes This Season
Officials Urge Residents To Be Prepared

Hurricane season is nearly here, and officials are forecasting another below average season, which runs from the beginning of June through the end of November.The Central Pacific Hurricane Center is predicting three to four tropical cyclones in Hawaii's neighborhood this year. That is just a little below the average of four to five storms.Even so, forecasters said we should not breathe any easier."We need to be prepared, just like I was forecasting, a lot more.

Because we never know when that one is going to hit us," Jim Weyman said.Last year, the hurricane center predicted only two or three tropical cyclones in our area. There were actually two.One of them was Hurricane Flossie, which gave the state, especially the Big Island of Hawaii, a big scare with a close call.It came within 100 miles south of the Big Island.While there was little damage, it was still enough of a scare.Emergency authorities now want us to have up to seven days worth of emergency supplies, including food. Hawaii' isolattion from the rest of the world has a lot to do with that.

It could take a long time for the government and supplies to reach the islands, and so that's why Hawaii residents really need five to seven days worth of material, food and water, to feel protected and prepared.Authorities say you should have those ready before hurricane season begins June 1.


Lack of skills in maritime industry

May 15, 2008
Edition 2
hans Pienaar and sapa

The Chinese ship carrying weapons destined for Zimbabwe has rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and parliament heard the saga has exposed a severe skills shortage in the maritime industry.

Yesterday the An Yue Jiang was south of Port Elizabeth, outside South African territorial waters. The ship is following an east-north-east course at about nine knots.

SA Maritime Safety Authority chief executive Tsietsi Mokhele yesterday told parliament's transport portfolio committee about the lack of technological capacity to monitor foreign vessels in South African waters.

"Our capacity to track and monitor vessels at sea is non-existent.

Authorities were unable to say where the ship was headed, or pinpoint its position after it had left Durban harbour.

Angolan government officials said they did not get any information on the ship when it was heading to Luanda from South Africa, but relied on media sources that have have been quoting the Independent Foreign Service and insurance company Loyds' Maritime Intelligence Unit.

But the latter used satellite surveillance dependent on ships' transponders. It was suspected the An Yue Jiang switched off its transponder on several occasions.

The SA Air Force patrolled the eastern and western coasts, but officers admitted they could easily miss a ship on the ocean.

Messing About In Ships Podcast

This weekend remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for all of us...