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`Need to promote awareness of satellite-aided rescue system'

Our Bureau

A visitor looking at a satellite model at the United Nations - India workshop on Satellite-Aided Search and Rescue (SASAR) in Bangalore on Monday.


WITH the press of a panic button, at least, a hundred lives are almost instantly saved each month worldwide thanks to the satellite-aided search and rescue (SAR) system.

In the past 12 years, already, over 13,000 users of these special emergency beacons have owed their lives to the internationally coordinated SAR on land, air or sea.

Today, some 9.1 lakh GPS-fitted emergency beacons are in use, mostly among the mandated aircraft, ships and a small number of mountaineers. But this number is too small, considering the number of risk areas such as expeditions and fishing trips on land, air or sea, according to Dr P.S. Goel, Director, ISRO Satellite Centre.

Lack of awareness was the biggest problem, while the cost of the beacon was another hurdle to satellite-aided rescue, Dr Goel said at an UN-India workshop on Satellite-Aided Search & Rescue (SASAR), which opened here on Monday.

Besides fine-tuning coordination among the members, the meet is also dwelling on how to reduce the beacon cost from around the current Rs 50,000; and also reduce false alarms that drain out the meagre SAR resources of member countries.

According to Dr Goel, in the next two years, the number of users should be raised five to ten-fold through cost reduction and entrepreneurship within the country. The sets are imported from the US, the UK or France.

The Indian SAR system has helped in 34 rescue incidents and saved 1,313 people over the last 10 years. The latest were the rescue of two British schoolgirls on a Himalayan expedition in July 2001; and a Singapore oil tanker, which sank after an explosion.

Vice Admiral O.P. Bansal, Director General, Coast Guard, said a national SAR Board set up in January this year would shortly meet to decide on a national SAR plan, including training, exercises and coordination with other rescue organisations.

It is also entering into agreements with maritime neighbours to conduct SAR operations. Only some 500 of the one million ships estimated to be transiting around the Indian region are registered in India. According to him, there are over five lakh fishermen, a growing number of tourism-related craft, all with a potential for developing an emergency.

According to Dr Goel, SAR is a major activity of all space-faring nations, though India and the US are the only two countries to include the geo-stationary satellite component for SAR. Currently, Insat 2B has the lone operational SAR component. But the upcoming satellites 3A and 3D will also carry the upgraded SAR payloads, he said.

The Indian SAR hub is in Bangalore and is linked to the four national rescue coordination centres at Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi and Kolkata, which in turn alert the Coast Guard, Navy or the Air Force.

Mr Daniel Levesque, Head of the Secretariat of COSPAS-SARSAT (the international satellite system for search & rescue) said the 36 member countries and agencies have to pay a flat annual fee of 19,000 for the common SAR costs.

The five-day workshop is organised by ISRO and the UN Office of Outer Space Affairs with participation from Australia, China, Singapore, the US, Russia, Malaysia; and Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Seychelles and Tanzania, which are covered by the Indian SAR services.

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