The International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF) has just returned from a successful visit to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, leading to future co-operation with Search and Rescue (SAR) agencies in both countries.
Reducing the number of people who lose their lives in the waters of Bangladesh is a top priority for their Government and the country’s SAR services, and new initiatives have been agreed upon following a Mass Rescue Operations (MRO) workshop with the IMRF.
The waterways in and around Bangladesh continue to be the primary means of transporting people. More than a thousand lives are lost each year at sea, around the coast, and in inland waters as launches and other craft continue to grow in size with double, and even, triple decked passenger-carrying vessels being built, making the hazard of overloading a significant challenge.
Bangladesh Coast Guard grasped the opportunity to meet with IMRF and organised and hosted a Maritime Mass Rescue Workshop, ensuring that the event was a success by assembling almost all the Agencies involved in maritime and inland waterway SAR operations in the country.
It was the first ever international workshop held in Bangladesh on this subject and there was an extensive discussion on disaster coordination responsibilities, which identified that “disaster” in this context relates to cyclones or floods, whereas “mass rescue operations” as portrayed in the Workshop exercise may be considered as events that surpass the capability of any one organisation to manage.
It was agreed that further discussion was necessary between the agencies involved. The model used in many countries of a National Strategic SAR Committee containing key decision makers from the relevant agencies and organisations was a concept that was accepted by the workshop participants.
In addition, Bangladesh Coast Guard has applied to the IMRF for membership, appreciating the benefits of becoming more integrated into the international maritime SAR community. As a rapidly developing organisation, the Coast Guard is keen to take advantage of the contacts and information sharing provided by the IMRF and its members.
A good example of this is a general SAR Manual, composed in Bangla, written after two Coast Guard Officers attended 10 days training in the UK and Ireland’s Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) College in Poole, England. On their return, they used the knowledge they had gained and adapted some of the RNLI resource materials to produce the manual.
To build on this relationship the Coast Guard plans to send two representatives to next month’s IMRF Asia Pacific Regional Meeting in Hong Kong and will provide attendees with a presentation on how mass rescue events are currently being managed in Bangladesh and how the IMRF’s Workshop has augmented their process.
Said IMRF Chairman, Michael Vlasto: “The IMRF really appreciates the level of interest generated by our visit and workshop. We are impressed by the commitment and genuine enthusiasm displayed by the agencies to work together to improve maritime safety and SAR responses”.
Following the Workshop, the IMRF trustees spent a couple of hours at the Sadarghat launch terminal where Coast Guard and Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) operational staff deal with the challenges of managing around 25 million people transiting through the terminal and eight million metric tonnes of cargo being handled annually.
“This visit to the launch terminal underpinned some of the challenges discussed in the workshop. The combination of river conditions, extreme weather, flooding and the huge number of people on the water at any given time, make this a particularly difficult area to provide SAR coverage,” says IMRF Chief Executive, Bruce Reid.
The Life Saving Association of Sri Lanka (LSASL) subsequently hosted the IMRF at an event attended by 40 regional coordinators, rescue volunteers and other SAR service representatives.
The LSASL has just become a member of the IMRF and having the Chairman and CEO of the charity present for open forum discussions proved to be highly productive.
Michael Vlasto, IMRF Chairman, says “LSASL is continuing to develop its capability and the statistics relating to lives saved are impressive on a comparative basis. We, as an organisation, are keen to assist with their on-going development in any way we can.
“There is knowledge, resources and experience our members have that we want to share to help with the development of SAR organisations in Sri Lanka. I mentioned to the LSASL President that there is a Regional meeting taking place in Hong Kong on 5/6th September and our CEO will be sending a formal invitation to the LSASL to attend.”
The forum addressed the ways the IMRF could help. The key topics discussed were training of volunteers, sourcing funds, planning for the future and developing collaboration with other government and non-government SAR organisations.
Water related mass rescue, as part of the disaster management process for Sri Lanka, was on the agenda and the IMRF suggested that a Maritime Mass Rescue Workshop could be of value in the future.
IMRF used the meetings to provide a briefing on the Mass Rescue Operations Workshop that had been successfully run in Dhaka, Bangladesh. There was also a comprehensive presentation by the Sri Lanka Coast Guard on the challenging but increasingly successful lifesaving work being carried out by their rapidly developing service.
Said IMRF Chief Executive Bruce Reid: “The visits by the IMRF representatives to these two countries have strengthened links between the Federation and local SAR agencies and have given an indication of the value of international cooperation.
“We are confident that we will be sharing views on how to save lives in and around their waters at future events, leading to more effective SAR services in the region.”
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