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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 November 2005, 16:51 GMT
Tsunami warning system under way
By Rachel Harvey
BBC News, on board the German research vessel Sonne

A tsunami detection buoy with the German research vessel Sonne in the background
The buoys will send signals to scientists on land
The first stage in the installation of a tsunami early-warning system has got under way off the coast of Indonesia.

After eight months of designing, testing and surveying, the first two early-warning buoys are ready.

In a joint project with the Indonesian government, a German research vessel is sailing towards the coastal waters of Sumatra where they will be deployed.

Aceh, in the north of Sumatra island, bore the brunt of last December's devastating earthquake and tsunami.

The buoys are seven metres (22ft) long from the stem, which sits under the water, to the bright yellow scaffolding which houses the scientific instruments above the surface.

They will be connected to pressure sensors placed on the sea bed.

If they sense something unusual, the buoys are programmed to beam the information via satellite to a central station back on the Indonesian mainland.

It is then the responsibility of the scientists to interpret the data and decide whether to raise the alarm.

'A big step'

But this is new technology and, as one of the Indonesian scientists on the team, Ridwan Sjamsuddin, explained, everybody will need time to get used to it.

This project has a key role for the safety of lives here in the Indian Ocean area - this is the front line
Reinhold Ollig, German Ministry of Education and Research
"Indonesian scientists and German scientists are still learning how the buoys will be operating, actually, but at least this is a big step," he said.

"If the receiving station can receive the data, that's another big step."

It is a gradual process. For the time being tsunami warnings will be sent to coastal communities by text messages to mobile phones or by e-mail.

A system of sirens, which should reach more people more quickly, is planned for the future.

On the front line

As Reinhold Ollig of Germany's ministry of education and research made clear, getting the system right here in Indonesia will be crucial.

"This is the most dangerous area for the whole Indian Ocean," he said.

"So this project, what we are doing together with our Indonesian friends, this has a key role for the safety of lives here in the Indian Ocean area. This is the front line."

There is almost universal agreement that the Sumatran fault line is still unstable and therefore another big earthquake is likely.

Nobody knows when, but with luck the next time there should be a better warning system and that could save thousands of lives.

See the team installing the early warning system

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