The Australia Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) have paired up to buy a the region's first next-generation satellite-aided search and rescue (SAR) system that will speed up the location of vessels in distress.
France's Orolia Group owned subsidiary McMurdo Group Techno Sciences has won the €13 million (A$18.3 million), ten year deal [PDF].
The contract is as part of AMSA's cooperation with its equivalent agency across the Tasman, Maritime New Zealand, and the Kiwis will chip in A$11.3 million for a ground station and operational costs.
The project involves the construction of six-aerial medium altitude orbit search and rescue (MEOSAR) facilities at Mingenew north of Perth, WA, and between Taupo and Rotorua in New Zealand.
A mission control centre is scheduled to be built in Canberra and the system will be operational in 2016, making the detection and identification of emergency distress beacons nearly instantaneous.
Compared to today's alert systems that use a limited number of low-earth orbit satellites, the new MEOSAR deployment will reduce the time to confirm the location of distress beacons from hours to minutes, Orolia/McMurdo Group said.
AMSA acting chief executive Mick Kinley said the new MEOSAR system will comprise 16 satellites which will be able to detect beacons within ten minutes, 95 percent of the time.
Performance is expected to improve as the full 50 satellite MEOSAR constellation comes online over the next five years, ensuring several can be in view at any given time.
Over 300,000 emergency beacons are registered already in Australia, Kinley said, and he reminded users of these to upgrade to the newer 406MHz variants as the 121.5MHz ones are now obsolete.
The international 41-country COSPAS-SARSAT MEOSAR system that uses 406MHz beacons is currently in evaluation mode and is expected to have limited operational capacity by 2016, and be fully ready for service two years after.
It will utilise the existing United States Global Positioning Service (GPS) and Russia's GLONASS equivalent along with the European Union's Galileo location satellites for worldwide coverage.