Sculpting a regional solution to search and rescue operations

Photo caption: Search and rescue demo at the Suva Harbour conducted by the Fiji Navy.

Friday 14 June 2013, Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Suva, Fiji – The Pacific has moved one step closer to achieving a harmonised regional approach to search and rescue (SAR) capability.

At the Fifth Pacific Regional Maritime Search and Rescue Workshop held in Suva, Fiji (3–7 June 2013), Pacific Island delegates committed to accelerate acceptance of a regional non-binding arrangement to promote cooperation in SAR matters among 24 Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs).

This initiative has been under development since 2007 and multiple consultations have been held with Pacific Island governments and SAR authorities to advance this.

The Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) is coordinating development of this arrangement in collaboration with SAR authorities in Australia, New Zealand, French Polynesia, New Caledonia and the United States.

Delegates at the SAR workshop also acknowledged that it was vital for PICTs to enact SAR legislation and develop effective national SAR plans, and that these plans must include mass rescue operations given the surge of cruise ship and air traffic in the region.

Harmonisation of aviation and maritime SAR services was also an essential consideration –  and one that is supported and encouraged by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Civil Aviation Organisation that are responsible for international SAR conventions. Recognising limitations in financial and human resources, the workshop encouraged PICTs to improve communication and planning between the bodies responsible for aviation, maritime and land SAR.

The workshop further encouraged national SAR authorities/agencies to examine the benefits of establishing a joint rescue coordination centre.

SAR authorities expressed concerned about the number of SAR incidents in the region that could have been easily prevented if boat operators carried simple safety equipment onboard, such as lifejackets. Many of these preventable incidents resulted in loss of lives. Delegates agreed that more needs to be done to strengthen safety at sea in the region, particularly with regard to operation of traditional craft/boats (often called banana boats).

Those responsible for safety at sea were urged to take great care in ensuring that vessels have some communication tools onboard, including low-tech solutions (such as radar reflectors, signal mirrors, SAR ribbons, retroreflective tapes and high-visibility clothing) to make vessels or persons in distress more visible.

A highlight of the workshop was the live search and rescue demonstration that took place at the Stanley Brown Navy Base in Walu Bay carried out by local Fiji Navy officers.

Participants were also introduced to a mass rescue operation simulation game that has been developed by the United States Coast Guard and were given an opportunity to experience how a mass rescue event may proceed.

Over 70 participants attended the five-day SAR workshop organised by SPC in collaboration with IMO and with support from Fiji’s Ministry of Defence, National Security and Immigration.

The next regional SAR workshop will be held in 2015.



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