Abu Dhabi: A satellite phone helped save 500 people in a sinking boat in the Mediterranean Sea, a senior executive of a UAE-based satellite phone company said at the fifth Global Space and Satellite Forum in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.

One person on the migrant boat that was sinking had a Thuraya phone [satellite phone]; he had no credit but was able to call customer service, Samer Halawi, CEO of Thuraya, said.

“This led to the saving of 500 lives. We want to help improve communications and keep people connected across the world. Our purpose as a satellite telecommunications company is to save and improve lives,” Halawi said.

Ahmad Al Shamsi, chief technology officer at Thuraya, told Gulf News that the company’s satellite phones have a novel feature for emergency calls.

“They have an emergency button. You can save up to ten emergency numbers on the phone and you can just press the emergency button to call those numbers,” he said.

He said satellite phones have connectivity in the sea and remote areas, mostly where GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks are not available.

Masoud M. Sharif Mahmoud, CEO, of Yahsat, a UAE satellite company, said the company is engaged in remote locations, focusing on improving connectivity. “Beyond business and commercial plans, domestically we are interested in knowledge transfer and deepening the understanding of space and satellite communications.”

George Whitesides, CEO, Virgin Galactic, echoed Masoud’s sentiments, saying that there is a direct correlation in rise of broadband penetration and increase of economic growth across the world.