Sunday, June 19, 2011

New Technology Can Produce Hidden Problems For Ocean Freight Carriers

Innovations Save Lives - But Can Also Endanger Them
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – The past twenty years have seen an ever accelerating race to use developing technologies for a myriad of purposes never previously envisaged. Merchant ships use digital maps, truck drivers rely more and more on GPS and so on. Now however is appears that an incident involving cargo on a RoRo freight ferry in the Irish Sea has caused an incident which could have had serious consequences.

Last Sunday night the UK coastguard launched a full alert after an emergency signal was detected some miles off the Point Lynas lighthouse on the very Northern tip of the Welsh coast. Police alerted the coastguard and a full scale rescue was launched with the Anglesey lifeboat based at RNLI Moelfre racing to the scene only to search fruitlessly and tying up a life saving resource for over two hours.

No trace of any vessel in difficulty was found and a full enquiry was immediately launched to establish what had occurred. Upon analysis it appears that the signal emanated from a telematic source somewhere out in the open sea but conforming to a type fitted as standard on various types of luxury cars such as certain Volvo and BMW models. The cars alarm system is designed to trigger if the vehicle is stolen or involved in an accident or if the driver activates it if in any distress.

The vessel which seems most likely to be carrying the responsible device was the P & O RoRo ferry Norbank, sailing that night from Liverpool to Dublin and which carries both freight trucks and private vehicles. By the time the vessel docked in Dublin eight hours later passengers had been advised to check their vehicles and ensure their emergency telematics devices had not been activated.

As both Coastguard and RNLI officials stated after the incident their responsibility is to treat every ‘shout’ as a worst case scenario, but with such devices becoming more common and many top marquee cars being stolen and smuggled out in trucks and shipping containers, the concern must be that whilst the emergency services are dealing with such a false alarm attendance at another truly serious incident may be delayed with possibly fatal implications.

Photo: Moelfre lifeboat station was first opened in 1830, and has had a remarkable history of bravery. Its crews have been awarded no less than 37 medals, four of which were gold - the V.C. of the lifeboat institution. The picture is of a six foot bronze statue of Dic Evans, famous as the one time coxswain of the Moelfre Lifeboat who was one of the few to win the R.N.L.I. Gold Medal twice and who now stands guard over the village seascape with the lifeboat station to his left.