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El Faro Located, But Finding and Recovery Should Have Been Much Easier
Existing EPIRB [Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons]Technology Should Have Made It Simple and Inexpensive, Especially With Floatable EPIRBs
Existing EPIRB Technology Should Have Made It Simple and Inexpensive
WASHINGTON, D.C. (November 1, 2015): Although it appears that, after much searching, the missing El Faro has finally been found, and that the even more difficult and expensive effort to recover the data recorder - using special remote-operated deep-diving submarines - lies ahead, it could all have been avoided.
Indeed, the ship’s position should have been known immediately from a simple piece of existing technology known as floatable EPIRBs, and a data recorder recovered within days without any deep diving, says MIT-trained Professor John Banzhaf, who has two U.S. patents and many technical papers to his credit.
Ships are required to have on board EPIRBs [Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons], a technology that has been in use for decades in marine environments. When activated, these devices send out an emergency distress signal - which indicates the identity of the caller - to search and rescue satellites.
If linked - as even small personal hand-held EPIRB devices now commonly are - to an internal GPS locator of the kind found in many cell phones, the devices will also provide their location with almost pinpoint accuracy, and also permit rescuers who subsequently arrive on the scene to hone in on its signal.
"If all of this can be packed into a small hand-held device weighing only ounces, which can transmit your identity and location anywhere in the world for at least 24 hours, and is even waterproof and designed to float, there is no reason why a larger shipboard EPIRB should not be able to do the same with a huge battery sending a signal hundreds of times more powerful, and able to last for weeks if not months.”
This is much better than a device sending out pings from a depth of 15,000 feet which can be detected only by craft closer than a few miles away searching a wide swath of ocean, says Banzhaf.
Since EPIRBs designed for huge cargo ships can be hundreds if not thousands of times bigger and heavier than the tiny personalized hand-held EPIRBs used by hikers, there is no reason why they could not also contain data recorders - sometimes called "black boxes" - or at least store in their flash-drive type [SSD] memory all of the information from data recording circuitry located elsewhere in the ship.
These devices could store - and provide to authorities - detailed information about virtually everything that happened to the ship, and possibly even the last several hours of what was said on the bridge.
Many EPIRBs made for ocean use are designed to be "floatable,"
Making it possible for rescuers to locate exactly where the ship sank, and to find almost immediately - floating on the surface - detailed information about what happened, would be far preferable to having authorities try to search thousands of square miles of ocean bottom, and then trying to recover this invaluable information from the ocean bottom 15,000 feet below, says Banzhaf.
JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.
Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
2000 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20052, USA
(202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418
GWU Law School