Ship accidentally blocks Coastguard emergency channel with Radio 4

The Coastguard in Shetland had to email the BBC asking for help
The Coastguard in Shetland had to email the BBC asking for help

A ship accidentally blocked a Coastguard emergency channel by playing Radio 4 non-stop for 12 hours.

The Coastguard in Shetland, one of 300 rescue teams around the UK, had to email the BBC asking for “help” after a sailor afloat somewhere near the Shetland islands accidently sent the Radio 4 station onto the maritime emergency channel all day.

The team leader of Shetland Coastguard, known as Laura K, realised there was an incident before she handed over her shift at 6:45am.

She told the BBC’s Broadcasting House programme on Sunday that in the Coastguard’s policy it states that if a radio station can be heard over the channel, the broadcaster can be contacted and asked to broadcast a safety message to get all vessels in the area to check their sets.

The programme aired the message sent out by the Coastguard to alert sailors of the problem. The incident happened on February 5.

The message said: “This is an important safety related message on behalf of His Majesty’s Coastguard.

“This radio message is being transmitted over VHF channel 16 by a vessel with an open mic. “This is blocking all distress, urgency and safety broadcasts.

“All vessels in the vicinity of south east Shetland are requested to check their radios and ensure that the microphone transmit button is not being inadvertently held open.”

HM Coastguard is made up of around 3,500 volunteers
HM Coastguard is made up of around 3,500 volunteers

Radio 4 eventually stopped being played over the emergency channel at 7pm the same day.

The team leader added that there had been no “incidents” during the 12-hour period the channel was blocked.

HM Coastguards are made up of around 3,500 volunteers, as well as more than 400 trained staff, who respond to over 36,000 incidents each year.

Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres are situated from Falmouth to Shetland and cover more than 11,000 miles of coastline.

Accidents where the emergency channel has been jammed are not unheard of. Twenty years ago a similar incident happened when a crewman on a cargo ship jammed the emergency frequency with Radio 4 for five hours.

Again, an appeal was made through Radio 4 by the Coastguard for the radio station to be turned off.

The Coastguard said: “VHF Channel 16 must be kept clear for distress and urgency traffic only. When mariners inadvertently broadcast on this channel, the Coastguard will take action to clear the channel.

“Mariners should regularly check their radio equipment to ensure that it is in good condition to avoid accidental transmissions.”

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