New Contract to Improve SAR for New Zealand, Australia

Maritime New Zealand Director Keith Manch said the new agreement "brings with it significant improvements to search and rescue capability."

Maritime New Zealand announced Sept. 3 that it has signed a contract, along with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, that will significantly improve search and rescue (SAR) in the region. The contract with McMurdo Group's Techno-Sciences Inc. will improve the way emergency distress beacon signals are picked up and passed on to rescue agencies, as it calls for constructing two new satellite receiving stations and a new mission control center in Canberra to pick up signals from medium-Earth orbit search and rescue satellites.

These MEOSAR satellites are replacing the current low-Earth orbit satellites, which will be phased out in the next four years. The New Zealand agency note that existing beacons--there are 46,000 registered in New Zealand--won't be affected by the change. Six satellite dishes will be built in New Zealand and completed by the end of 2015. The receiving station is expected to become operational by 2017.

The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand, which is part of MNZ, responds to about 550 beacon alerts per year. "The joint investment by New Zealand and Australia in the MEOSAR project is another example of the close cooperation between our two countries in what is a vital area of operations," MNZ Director Keith Manch said. "The change is necessary because without a medium earth orbiting receiving station, New Zealand would effectively lose its ability to respond to distress beacons once the LEOSAR satellites are phased out. But the change brings with it significant improvements to search and rescue capability."

AMSA Chief Executive Officer Mick Kinley said Australia and New Zealand's ground stations will work cooperatively to achieve overlapping coverage of the two countries' SAR regions. "This offers a high degree of resilience in the event of a system outage that would be expensive for either country to achieve alone. AMSA is pleased to continue this collaborative regional approach with New Zealand," he said.

According to MNZ, New Zealand's search and rescue region extends from just below the equator to the South Pole and eastward halfway to South America.

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