China's homegrown Beidou Navigation Satellite System has grown in popularity among fishermen, with nearly 70,000 people using its short message service (SMS), said an official from the system's management office.
Many fishermen use the messaging service to communicate with their families and friends for free, according to Ran Chengqi, director of the system's management office.
Ran made the remark at a seminar held on Wednesday in Guangzhou, according to a Thursday report by Chinanews.com.
Fishermen using the messaging service send about 700,000 messages every month, the report said.
The system has also provided services related to navigation, vessel monitoring and emergency rescues since it went into initial operation in China and its surrounding areas last December.
More than 30,000 access terminals for the system have been installed on fishing boats in China, helping to ensure fishermen's safety and promote fishery development, Ran said.
China began to construct the Beidou system in 2000 with a goal of breaking its dependence on the U.S. Global Positioning System by 2020.
Authorities plan to launch a total of 30 satellites to complete the system, launching its 13th satellite about two weeks ago.
The system will be able to provide high-quality navigation services to most users in the Asia-Pacific region this year, an unidentified official from the system's management office said Wednesday.
Fishermen can use the system to send distress signals if they encounter a mechanical failure or other trouble, as well as reach relevant authorities in the event of a maritime border conflict, Ran said.
China currently has 1.06 million fishing vessels, accounting for nearly one-third of the global total. However, about 80 percent of the boats lack modern navigation systems.
Since the end of 2010, south China's Hainan Province has spent 79 million yuan ($12.5 million) to install navigation equipment on 6,000 locally-registered fishing boats. Fishermen were required to pay just 10 percent of the total cost of installing the equipment on their boats.
The province's navigation system has helped save six fishing vessels and 27 fishermen and avoid economic losses of nearly 100 million yuan ($15.8 million), according to the Hainan Department of Ocean and Fisheries.
The large-scale reinforcement of navigation systems has also been undertaken in other coastal provinces, such as Guangdong and Shandong.
"Fishermen love the system. I was once told by a fisherman in Fujian Province that he has enshrined the Beidou terminal on his boat along with a statue of Matsu, a patron saint of Fujian's people," Ran said.
(Xinhua News Agency May 17, 2012)