The IMRF’s Board of Trustees meets twice a year in its capacity as a board of directors to oversee the charity’s actions and assess our progress against our agreed strategies. When possible, the Board aligns its meetings with a SAR event in the host country which, in March, was South Africa.
“These events have two overall aims,” says Bruce Reid, IMRF’s CEO: “To enable the IMRF to gain a better understanding of what is going on in SAR around the world; and to pass on to our local colleagues some of the things the IMRF is involved with internationally.” According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the great majority of global drownings occur in Africa and Asia, so it is in these regions that the IMRF is particularly keen to focus its work. “And the key to SAR success is cooperation,” says Bruce: “Locally, nationally and internationally.” The IMRF will help wherever it can.
On this occasion the Board participated in a very interesting seminar in Cape Town with colleagues from the South African SAR services, hearing presentations from IMRF Members the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI), Lifesaving South Africa, MRCC Cape Town (who kindly hosted the second day), the Maritime Safety Authority of South Africa (SAMSA), and the South African Defence Force. Board and IMRF secretariat members also gave talks on a range of current topics in international SAR.
Mark Hughes, NSRI’s Operations Director, gave a presentation on NSRI (see www.nsri.org.za) and the idea of spreading the volunteer model to other parts of the African continent. The question of SAR assistance from shipping was also discussed. South Africa has a huge maritime SAR region, most of it beyond the range of its shorebased SAR facilities. The coordinated assistance of passing ships is an essential component. (See ‘A Rescue off the Wild Coast’.)
IMRF Trustees Dean Lawrence, of Coastguard New Zealand, and Jorge Diena, of ADES Uruguay, spoke respectively on ‘Nowcasting’ – using automatic solar-powered weather stations broadcasting current conditions and forecasts to help water users plan their voyages – and volunteer SAR in South America. Some volunteers, said Jorge, “Lack everything but passion.” Accident prevention is also a key task, however: “Intellectuals solve problems, but geniuses prevent them”.
NSRI’s Brett Ayres gave a very interesting talk on ‘not repeating error’ – learning lessons from experience, and applying those lessons. IMRF Chairman Udo Fox gave a brief presentation on his own organisation, the German Maritime SAR Service, then summarised the IMRF’s coordinated work under its ‘Members Assisting Members’ scheme in response to the migrant crisis in the Aegean Sea. The President of Lifesaving South Africa, Dylan Tommy, talked about his organisation’s history, affiliations and current set-up: see http://lifesaving.co.za/. Dylan spoke of the sport of lifeguarding as well as its emergency response role, and noted his organisation’s contacts with similar regional groups.
IMRF Trustee James Vaughan, International Director of the UK & Ireland’s Royal National Lifeboat Institution, began the seminar’s second day with a presentation on the ‘silent epidemic’, based on the WHO’s report that some 372,000 people drown each year. James noted that 90% of the total die in poorer countries, particularly in Africa and Asia; and often far inland, beyond the scope of maritime SAR. We need to work with other sectors if we are to make a real impact on these numbers.
Jared Blows, head of MRCC Cape Town – the regional maritime rescue coordination centre for the Southern Africa region – explained the role of SAMSA within South Africa’s SAR arrangements. Regional challenges include prioritisation, and hence funding; technical skills (including use of the English language); infrastructure development, artisanal fishing and (in the northern Mozambique Channel) a continuing threat of piracy. However, there is continuing willingness to improve, especially at the lead agency level, with IMO and donor countries and institutions still actively involved. There is good bilateral cooperation too as regards remote area SAR, particularly in the Southern Ocean.
Colonel C R Opperman of the Department of Defence, Joint Operations (whose remit includes SAR and disaster management planning), spoke about the South African Defence Force’s SAR capabilities. IMRF Trustee Zhang Rongjun explained the maritime safety situation and preparedness for mass rescue operations in the Asia-Pacific region, including the work of the IMRF’s Asia-Pacific Regional Centre. David Jardine-Smith of the IMRF’s secretariat talked about the IMRF’s mass rescue operations project, emphasising the benefits of planning and training for such operations as well as appraising the results of relevant incidents and exercises.
IMRF Trustee Matthew Fader, of the Swedish Sea Rescue Society, spoke of his and the SSRS’s experiences in mixed migrant rescue in the Mediterranean; and Jared Blows told the seminar about two SAMSA projects – an inland waterways safety programme and an ongoing trial of Class B AIS transponders in artisanal fishing vessels. Cleeve Robertson of NSRI spoke about medevacs from commercial vessels, of which the NSRI conduct about 70 a year by boat. The seminar closed with a presentation by David Jardine-Smith and Bruce Reid on the IMRF’s work at, and with, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), on SAR development and technical cooperation issues.
For a full report of the Cape Town seminar, and copies of the presentations given there, please visit "IMRF Maritime SAR Seminar".
Photo Above: Members of the IMRF Board & Secretariat with Cleeve Robertson (NSRI), Jared Blows (MRCC Cape Town), and Dylan Tommy (Life Saving South Africa).