Satellite SOS system may speed sea rescues

Tests being carried out under stormy conditions in the North Sea off here are expected to prove the practicality of a new ship rescue device. It is a floating buoy that can send off distress signals to a satellite, in turn linked to an international rescue service.

Six nations are involved in the North Sea experiments to radio distress calls to a satellite 20,000 miles up which is able to beam coded messages to any ground station on the earth. Some ships that founder in storms are unable to send off distress signals, and they quickly vanish without a trace of wreckage.

The new satellite SOS systems allow for a warning message alerting rescuers to start a sea search for a disabled ship or for a radio buoy that will be automatically released from a sinking ship.

Rescue experts believe that the flashing of a distress alert by satellite would save many lives at sea and prevent the kind of communications failure that led to the high loss of life during the sinking of the giant liner Titanic off Newfoundland.

About 60,000 of the world's ships could be fitted with the satellite buoys.

It is believed that $: 50 million ($75 million) worth of sales could be achieved if the new radio beacons are adopted as safety measures by the world's shipping companies.

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