Shipping's worldwide signal of distress, SOS in Morse code, will be phased out by 1999, the International Maritime Organization announced here Friday.

From that date, all ships will have to use the satellite-linked Global Maritime Distress and Safety System.Instead of a radio operator tapping out messages, a press of a button will beam a predetermined distress signal to a satellite, setting in motion a rescue system that may be less romantic but should save more lives, according to a spokesman for the maritime organization.

Samuel Finley Breese Morse, a U.S. painter and inventor of the electric telegraph, first used his code to send a message between Washington and Baltimore on May 24, 1844. A few years later, the dots-and-dashes alphabet was adopted worldwide.