To avoid communication blackouts that led to 20 fishermen going missing in the aftermath of Cyclone Okchi in 2017, a slew of government departments, research agencies and private companies have developed GEMINI, a portable receiver linked to ISRO-satellites, that is “fail-proof” and warn fishermen of danger.
The Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), a Hyderabad institute collaborated with Accord, a private company, to develop a box-shaped receiver that has an antenna and in-built battery that can last three to four days, according to a brochure describing the device.
GEMINI works on GAGAN, developed by ISRO and the Airports Authority of India and is an India-made global positioning system and relies on the positioning system by ISRO’s GSAT satellites.
When GEMINI is connected to an app, it also lets fishermen know the probability of fish-catch in the surrounding seas. “Even now we provide services such as storm alerts and advisories of potential fish-catch however it's dependent on the mobile services provided by your phone company,” said Satish Shenoi, director, INCOIS. “With this device, fishermen outside the signal range of their phone companies can also access warnings and alerts.” Mobile phone frequencies cannot be accessed 10-12 km beyond the coast and with GEMINI this range can increase to 300 nautical miles, according to a press release.
The device only allows one-way communication — it can’t be used by fishermen to make calls, for instance. At ₹9,000 a device, it’s also relatively expensive for the average fisherman, say officials, but attempts are on to subsidise it by as much as 90%. “We are in talks to have an agreement with the National Fisheries Development Board to have the Centre pay 60%, the states 20% and the user 10% of the device cost,” said Balakrishnan Nair, head, information services, INCOIS.
The device could be more easily accessible to India’s 900,000 fishermen if the chips powering mobile phones were able to receive signals from the GAGAN system, said Mr. Shenoi and that, he said, was some time away.
“The satellite-based communication is the only suitable solution for the dissemination of such emergency information and affordable satellite based communication system should be made part of the dissemination chain to deal with cyclones, high waves and tsunamis,” Union Science Minister Harsh Vardhan said at a press conference.