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Dead medium: Naval SOS Becomes Obsolete
From: billb@savvy.com (Bill Burns)

Source(s): United Press International 1/1/1998; the telegraph collectors list

Thursday, January 1 12:43 PM EST

"SOS distress signal era ends

"LONDON, Jan. 1 (UPI) == The Morse code distress signal SOS is now officially history, but not before a 13,000 ton Bahamas-registered ship used it to call for help 790 miles west of Ireland.

"The SOS signal and official use of Morse Code was formally scrapped worldwide at midnight.

"The ship MV Oak was headed from Canada to Liverpool with a crew of 26 when its cargo of wood shifted in storm- force winds and it lost all engine power Wednesday.

"The ship tapped out Morse code's final SOS and the signals were picked up in Britain and passed to the Falmouth coastguard. The Coast Guard initially considered the message a joke signaling the end of an era.

"Guard spokesman Gerry Wood said, 'We haven't had a Morse distress message for years. It was almost too perfect.'

"But he said they reacted knowing 'someone was in distress... as nobody ever sends an SOS signal as an exercise.'

"Ship signals are now dispatched by modern satellite voice and computer communication.

"The Morse code system dates back to 1908 when British and German radio operators agreed to use the SOS message.

"The letters were chosen because they are simple to tap out in Morse code: dot-dot-dot-dash-dash-dash-dot-dot- dot.

"Wednesday's message from the Oak said only 'SOS. SOS. This is Oak. Position 53 16 N, 24 59 W. Stop engine. We need assistance.'

"British Coast Guard officials report the ship has been abandoned and the nearest ship is some 400 miles away. But the Oak's crew and captain are reportedly aboard lifeboats."

Bill Burns (billb@savvy.com)