Harmonising search and rescue cooperation in vast Pacific Ocean

Search and rescue experts will gather in Suva, Fiji, next week to set the strategic direction of regional sea search and rescue cooperation in the Pacific region over the next five years.

There is a moral and legal obligation on all nations to respond to any person in distress within their coastal waters.

This places huge responsibilities on small island nations and amplifies the need for international cooperation to coordinate search and rescue operations over the vast Pacific Ocean.

For example, in February this year, 13 crew members were saved by a search and rescue operation conducted by New Caledonia’s Maritime Rescue Coordinating Centre after the LC Mahalia capsized in Vanuatu waters.

In an effort to strengthen such cooperation, the four-day Pacific Search and Rescue Discussion Group (PACSAR DG) Annual Meeting begins next Tuesday (28 June) in Suva, Fiji, supported by the Pacific Community (SPC) and members of the discussion group, including  the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), Maritime New Zealand and United States Coast Guard District 14 (USCG D14).

Fiji will join the discussion group for the first time. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) will also participate.

“This meeting is an important opportunity to identify the strategic challenges facing search and rescue in the region now and in the future, and to explore ways to address these over the next two-to-five years,” the Chair of PACSAR DG and Manager, Search and Rescue Planning and Business for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Christine MacMillian, said.

“The intention will be to continue to strengthen the cooperation and capability between the Pacific Island Countries and Territories through the work of the PACSAR DG,” she added.

The main priorities of the discussion group are to enhance regional cooperation on maritime and aeronautical search and rescue, and to improve and harmonise the response of Pacific Island countries and territories to people in distress at sea.

Also on the agenda is planning the seventh Regional Search and Rescue Workshop which will be hosted in Auckland in 2017 by New Zealand.  

“SPC supports the Pacific Search and Rescue Discussion Group which is an efficient mechanism to coordinate efforts of the main authorities with responsibility for responding to distress at sea over vast sea areas covering most of the Pacific Island region,” SPC’s Deputy Director Transport, Thierry Nervale, said.

The meeting (28 June to 1 July) will follow the Day of the Seafarer – observed internationally each year on 25 June to celebrate seafarers.

The PACSAR DG was established following the fourth Search and Rescue Workshop held in Cairns, Australia, in 2011 to provide leadership for the development and improvement of search and rescue practices and resources in the region.