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The Inmarsat-E system provides global maritime distress alerting services via Inmarsat satellites. Distress alerts transmitted from Inmarsat-E Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) are relayed through Inmarsat satellites to dedicated receiving equipment located at four Coast Earth Stations (CESs): Raisting, Germany (T-Mobil); Niles Canyon, USA (Stratos); Perth, Australia (Telstra); and BT Atlantic, UK (BT).

The distress alert transmitted by an EPIRB will always be received by two Coast Earth Stations in each ocean region, giving 100 percent duplication for each ocean region in case of failures or outages associated with any of the CESs.

Following reception of the distress alert, it is immediately forwarded automatically to a Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) via an X.25 connection so that appropriate action can be taken.

The time taken from the transmission of a distress alert to reception at the MRCC is within five minutes and typically under two minutes.

The Inmarsat-E system supports "Float Free" EPIRBs which incorporate the following features:

The size of the EPIRB is between 220mm and 70mm high and weighs about 1200g, (depending on manufacturer and model).

The EPIRB may be activated from a remote control position on the bridge or the conning position of the vessel; manually by using a switch on the side of the equipment if the EPIRB has been carried into the survival craft; or automatically as soon as the EPIRB has been released by immersion in water (hydrostatic release).

Carriage of a satellite EPIRB is required by the International Maritime Organisation's (IMO) Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS). The mandatory carriage requirement for satellite EPIRBs came into effect on August 1 1993.

GMDSS regulations apply to all vessels of over 300 gross registered tonnes and all passenger vessels engaged on international voyages. However, distress incidents occur on small craft not covered by IMO's GMDSS regulations, such as pleasure craft etc., much more frequently than on larger vessels. Inmarsat-E EPIRB models are also available for such small craft, enabling them to transmit distress alerts and obtain the services of rescue authorities much faster and more reliably than by conventional means.

It is imperative that owners of ALL Inmarsat-E EPIRBs register them with Inmarsat, giving details of the vessel or craft on which they are installed, as soon as possible after installation. MRCCs hold details of all registered Inmarsat-E EPIRBs and as the position contained in the distress alert is accurate to within 200 metres, Search and Rescue (SAR) authorities can be alerted and start to take appropriate action within minutes.