Mass Rescue Operations

Posted in MRO News

Costa Cruises have announced recently that they are to build two ships which, at 6,600 passengers apiece, will set a new capacity record. SAR people may think that, when you add their crews and a maritime disaster, they present potentially the biggest SAR challenge in the world.

But this is not necessarily so. Modern ships of this size are built to survive major accidents, keeping their people aboard. The challenge, as pointed out in the IMRF’s mass rescue operations (MRO) project, is to consider how SAR organisations should adapt their responses so as to be able to support such ships’ crews and operators in dealing with the consequences of an accident.

The main MRO challenges actually lie elsewhere, however; often in the developing world, where accidents are too often under-reported. Since the World Maritime Rescue Congress closed at the beginning of June, the IMRF has been made aware of a mix of cases, in Indonesia, the Philippines, Sweden, the United States, Egypt, Papua New Guinea, Greece, Bangladesh and Oman. As LIFE LINE goes to press there is news of a passenger boat capsizing after a collision in the Kenyan waters of Lake Victoria. And, of course, from the Mediterranean comes a stream of stories of mass rescue operations, often in desperate circumstances.

As our Patron, Efthimios Mitropoulos, noted in his speech to Congress, the loss of life in ferries in domestic trades – not covered by inter-national regulation – is far too high.

Kiersten Sander of the IMRF has been collaborating with the Worldwide Ferry Safety Association on research into the causes of passenger vessel accidents and the SAR response to them. Both sets of research were reported at Congress.

The WFSA’s analysis reveals that there were over 17,000 fatalities in domestic ferry accidents between 2000 and 2014: about 1200 deaths per year. Developing world nations accounted for 95% of the fatalities. Ferry capacity is increasing but vessels are often sub-standard (an issue that the IMO too is now seeking to address).

Kiersten’s report may be found at the WMRC Website.

She concludes that when rescue is necessary SAR resources may be insufficient or, apparently, not available at all. SAR reports are often lacking, but “the results of this research suggest that SAR authorities in developing nations are underresourced, with vast rivers, lakes and coastlines to monitor.”

A mass rescue operation is, by definition, one that is beyond the normal capability of the SAR services available. Even if low probability incidents, they carry high consequences, and require planning for.sunk

The IMRF’s Mass Rescue Operations Project has sought to gather and share experience and information on these most challenging types of SAR operations. David Jardine-Smith, the project manager, announced the launch of the IMRF’s online ‘MRO Library’ at Congress. The Library is primarily designed to share information useful to the MRO planning and training processes.

It may be found on the IMRF website here.

The Library contains a wealth of useful documents freely provided by IMRF members or available from other sources. It also contains ‘MRO guidance papers’ prepared by the IMRF’s project team to provide an overview. These guidance papers can be individually accessed on the site, enabling the user to quickly find information relevant to his or her particular needs.

They are also available in eBook form, as a downloadable pdf formatted to enable printing, if desired, in A4 size. To help raise funds for the continuing project, this version of the guidance is for sale, at the modest price of £10 – £8 for IMRF members. Please visit the IMRF Bookshop.

The IMRF also runs MRO workshops, designed to enable discussion of the issues and to assist planning and training. We take this opportunity to extend an invitation to maritime SAR organisations across the Asia-Pacific region to join us in Singapore for a regional MRO workshop, 19-21 August. This event will include a demonstration utilising multiple simulated bridges and a full day workshop delivered by IMRF MRO specialist, John Geel.

For further information about the Singapore event or future MRO workshops, please contact us at As has been said, with MROs it is not ‘if’ but ‘when’. Preparedness – improving capability – is key to success.

Follow Us

FacebookTwitterLinkedInShare on Google+RSS FeedPinterestYoutube
Pin It

Contact Info

International Maritime Rescue Federation
50 Allardice Street
AB39 2RA
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0) 1569 767405


Log In Members

Members can log in here to view the Members Hub and other components. Have you forgotten your username/password? E-mail us at for resetting your password. Or use the "Forgot Login?" function below