For the first time in four years, the global search and rescue (SAR) community converged in Rotterdam in the Netherlands in mid-June for the IMRF’s World Maritime Rescue Congress (WMRC).

The three-day event, which was co-organised between the IMRF and the Royal Netherlands Sea Rescue Institution (KNRM), was the fifth WMRC to take place following successful events in Sweden in 2007, China in 2011, Germany in 2015, and Canada in 2019. Crucially, the 2023 iteration followed the Covid-19 pandemic, giving many an opportunity to spend time with fellow SAR personnel from across the globe in-person once again.

This year’s WMRC was a true reflection of maritime SAR’s international nature and the IMRF’s membership. More than 500 personnel attended from 137 SAR organisations, non-governmental organisations, commercial organisations and start-ups. Over 43 countries were represented at the event, including those from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and South America.

WMRC 2023 kicked off on the first day with a live SAR demonstration organised by KNRM in the waters surrounding the SS Rotterdam that involved the Netherlands Coastguard, KNRM, and the Port of Rotterdam, as well as vessels from Belgium, Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The event also included a parade of vintage lifeboats from the KNRM and other European SAR organisations to demonstrate how lifeboats have developed over the past 100 years.

The second day of the congress began with a moment’s silence to those lives lost at sea in Greece earlier that week. The congress was officially opened by Caroline Jupe, CEO of the IMRF, who noted that the global SAR community has a duty to imagine the future, continue to strive to improve their services and identify some of the most important issues facing the industry today and in the future. Jacob Tas, CEO of the KNRM, welcomed all attendees on behalf of the host organisation and amongst others highlighted the fact that every two minutes someone drowns in the world, which needs our collective focus and attention before introducing Jaap Smit, King’s Commissioner of South Holland, who spoke passionately about his own experiences with the KNRM and wished all those in attendance a fantastic congress.

Keynote speaker Henk Spanjer, Chair of the International Association for Safety and Survival Training (IASST), then took to the stage for his address, which focused on the critical need to improve safety and training operations, including simulators, in maritime SAR. This was followed by a plenary panel on developments in global maritime SAR by the IMRF’s board of trustees and chaired by Dean Lawrence from the Royal New Zealand Coastguard.

Following an action-packed first day of panel discussions and workshops, attendees were treated to a special river cruise through Rotterdam, which included a surprise ‘Meet the Fleet’ escort from the SAR vessels involved in the previous day’s SAR demonstration, bringing all attendees back to the SS Rotterdam safe and sound.

The third day of the congress included several informative and engaging panels discussing topics such as SAR incident planning, ESG strategy development, and Mass Rescue Operation workshops. The congress formally concluded at the end of this day with closing remarks from Caroline and Jacob, and a Farewell Reception at the incredible Rotterdam City Hall.

Following the conclusion of WMRC, IMRF members attended the organisation’s Quadrennial General Meeting, which allowed the IMRF to showcase its completed and upcoming work to its membership. The meeting also included the election of its board for the 2023-27 period, in which Jacob Tas was elected as Chair and Cia Sjöstedt, CEO of the Swedish Sea Rescue Society (SSRS) elected as Vice-Chair. A complete list of the IMRF’s new board of trustees can be found here.

WMRC is the world’s most prominent maritime SAR event, bringing together people from all backgrounds, experiences and cultures to better understand how maritime SAR efforts can be improved to save more lives at sea. WMRC 2023 was a testament to the fantastic work done by the global SAR community over the past four years and a preview of some of the amazing work the industry still has to come.

The IMRF will be posting a number of in-depth articles based on the panels and discussions during WMRC in the coming months. Be sure to keep an eye on the IMRF website for more.