HL Deb 18 March 1996 vol 570 c85WA
Lord Brabazon of Tara

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are in a position to announce the establishment of a UK Al Area under the provisions of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen)

We are pleased to announce that the seas around the UK coastline will become an Al Area: that is, an area within automated Very High Frequency (VHF) radiotelephone coverage of coast stations.

Between now and 1999, VHF Digital Selective Calling (DSC) equipment will be installed in HM Coastguard's radio sites. Implementation will begin this year with stations in the English Channel. The GMDSS system is being implemented in line with requirements in the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS) and applies to passenger and merchant vessels of 300 gross tonnage and upwards, for both national and international voyages.

This decision means that, as implementation progresses, ship operators in the sea area around the UK coast will be able to press a simple distress button automatically to alert shore-based DSC stations as well as other ships. The system does not need voice activation or telegraphy and so will speed up the transmission of distress messages. In order to maintain services for smaller vessels not covered by the new system. HM Coastguard will maintain a listening watch on the present calling and safety channel, Channel 16, for as long as necessary after 1st February 1999.