IMO Pushes Ahead with SAR Initiatives

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By Wendy Laursen 2016-03-10 14:51:05

The IMO’s sub-committee on Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue held its third Session (NCSR3) from Monday 29 February through Friday March 4, and the meeting saw a push forward for important changes to search and rescue operations. 

Of note was the discussion of SAR cooperation plans. The concept of SAR cooperation planning stems from the 1994 Estonia disaster. The ship sank in the Baltic Sea, and 852 people died. Investigators found that a lack of mutual understanding between passenger ships and the SAR services had hindered the response. SOLAS was subsequently amended to require the exchange of information and emergency response exercises. However, some administrative difficulties have emerged.

Administrative Difficulties

“The value of establishing a relationship and exchanging core information between passenger ships and SAR authorities is long agreed,” says David Jardine-Smith of the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF). “But the process has always been hard to administer for ships trading through many SAR regions, such as some cruise ships, and we are now at an interim stage in the IMO’s work to improve this situation.”

After careful discussion in the SAR Working Group at the meeting, the sub-committee has now requested the International Civil Aviation Organization / IMO Joint Working Group on SAR (which will meet in Berlin in September) to consider the matter further and develop draft amendments to the existing IMO guidance (MSC Circular 1079) that “include potential ways of improving and simplifying the system.” The Joint Working Group's work will then be looked at during NCSR's next meeting in March 2017.

“The IMRF will continue to assist with this work, because anything that simplifies emergency response is a good thing,” says Jardine-Smith. “Exactly how this will happen will depend on the ensuing discussion, but ideas that sound good to us at present include cutting out middlemen and having one global depository for the relevant plans; and distributing and storing the plans electronically, always provided that this can be done securely.

“The idea of a full, directly accessible database (with appropriate security and 24/7 accessibility, of course) remains our preferred option, but would presumably mean fairly significant outlay on somebody's part.

“We also think inclusion of the SAR cooperation plan in the ship's Safety Management System is simply logical, as emergency planning is part of the ISM requirement anyhow. This should help avoid the plan being forgotten about, and getting out of date. 

“The IMRF also strongly supports IMO's efforts to improve the quality of information about SAR services in their GISIS database. SAR cooperation planning isn't just about accessing info about the ship. Company emergency planners should have easy access to information about available SAR services too, and the new Global SAR Plan module to be placed on GISIS should help with that. But it does need to be complete, and it definitely needs to be up to date.”

Member States have again been asked to check their GISIS entries, and the IMRF has offered to help with any initiative that improves the quality of the info held.

CLIA Supports Change

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) fully supports the underlying need to revise the guidelines on SAR plans for cooperation as laid out in MSC Circular 1079, in particular for passenger ships trading through many SAR regions, such as cruise ships, says Kim Hall, Director of Technical & Regulatory Affairs, Operational & Security at CLIA. “In fact, CLIA had co-sponsored with Denmark, Finland and IMRF the proposal to MSC 95 for an unplanned output (MSC 95/19/7) that originally placed this work item on the agenda.”

CLIA agrees with the assertions made in the submission to MSC 95, including: Simplifying the process related to the dissemination of SAR plans for cooperation for ships transiting many SAR regions would provide more efficient and effective ways of having the plans readily available to the relevant SAR services in case of emergency and would reduce the costs and the administrative burden on all entities involved.

“Additionally, as reiterated during the IMO meeting, CLIA believes that this issue is relatively urgent given the risks posed to passengers and crew in the absence of a timely and appropriate response by rescue services should they not be able to access the relevant SAR plan for cooperation,” says Hall.

“CLIA looks forward to helping define the requirements and potential solutions for revising the current process; it’s important that the collation and dissemination of SAR plans for cooperation are simplified, efficient, and ensure that the proper authorities have timely access to this important information in the rare event of an emergency.”

Vessel triage

During the meeting, the sub-committee stated its encouragement for Member States, SAR services and other parties to test the vessel triage method proposed by Finland. The vessel triage method applies the principles of medical triage to shipping accidents. The method expresses the safety status of a vessel in terms of four categories: Green, Yellow, Red and Black. The safety status of a vessel is least compromised when its vessel triage category is green. Black represents the most unsafe conditions. 

The vessel triage category is determined based on the assessed severity of six threat factors:
- Flooding;
- Listing, decrease of stability;
- Decrease of maneuverability;
- Black-out;
- Fire, explosion; and
- Danger posed by hazardous substances.

The IMRF strongly supports the sub-committee call for people to try vessel triage out, says Jardine-Smith. “We note that those organizations (SAR services, ferry companies, coastal States) who have tried it tend to like it. In any event, live tests will enable full assessment of the idea.”

Large Scale Rescue

The sub-committee also welcomed news of the second edition “Large Scale rescue operations at sea: Guidance on ensuring the safety and security of seafarers and rescued persons” published last year, noting that ICS and co-sponsors wished it to remain a live document, suitably updated.