More must be done to emphaszse the importance of maritime mass rescue operation planning and to fill global gaps in search and rescue (SAR) response capability. This was Dr Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry’s message to delegates at the opening of the 4th International Maritime Mass Rescue Conference in Gothenburg, Sweden, last week.
Dr Doumbia-Henry, President of the World Maritime University, told delegates that learning from experience and exchanging views among SAR practitioners are essential. Recent experience in the Mediterranean has shown the need for mass rescue capability and preparedness. Increasing vessel traffic in Arctic waters highlights the need to improve currently inadequate SAR resources for such a challenging environment. And the need for all levels of SAR capability in the developing world continues to outpace resources.
The conference, run by the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF) and hosted by the Swedish Sea Rescue Society (SSRS), started with a practical exercise, which took place around the small islets off Långedrag and involved more than 200 people and 20 rescue boats. The delegates took lead roles in the rescue boat crews, at an exercise Rescue Coordination Centre, and at landing sites, while volunteers from the SSRS and other local SAR services acted as casualties and safety cover.
The practical exercise unveiled important issues for consideration.
”Coordination and communication again proved some of the biggest problems. Managing and accounting for large groups of distressed and injured people quickly and efficiently proved almost too hard in the exercise – which was the way it was designed to be. Seeing and trying to deal with a problem yourself, out on the water, in a coordination centre or at a landing site, is more powerful than only talking about it in a conference auditorium.” Bruce Reid, CEO of the IMRF, commented.
Mass rescue operations, as defined by the International Maritime Organization, are beyond normal SAR capability. They are therefore of vital interest to anyone with a role in SAR planning and response.
“They are rare, at least in the developed world, but extremely challenging, which is why it’s so important to plan and train and to build relationships with the right people before a response is needed. Because it’s not ‘if’, but ‘when’; and the better prepared the responders are, the more lives they will save.” Mr Reid added.