IMRF on the International Stage

Posted in LIFELINE October 2015 - English

The IMRF has consultative status at the International Maritime Organization – the IMO; the United Nations’ technical body responsible for shipping safety, including maritime search and rescue. We represent maritime SAR services, from mission coordinators to rescue boat crews, at the international level.

A key part of the IMO’s work in respect of SAR is done in conjunction with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). IMO and ICAO jointly own the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual, the three volumes of which provide guidance to State SAR authorities; to SAR Mission Coordinators, On Scene Coordinators and Aircraft Coordinators; and to the commanders of vessels and aircraft which respond to SAR incidents.

IMO and ICAO SAR experts meet in a Joint Working Group each year, to discuss amendments to the Manual (which is updated every three years) and to work on other SAR matters referred to them by the two parent organizations. This year’s meeting was held at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, Ontario, in September. The IMRF’s David Jardine-Smith attended.

It was a busy meeting for the Joint Working Group (JWG): the IMRF alone submitted five papers, and supported a sixth from Finland, and some 50 papers were considered in all, on subjects ranging from aircraft tracking to future alternatives to pyrotechnic distress signals. Here we report on some of the meeting’s results. Further details will be available on the IMRF website in due course.working

The IMRF reported to the Group the results of two of our projects to date: our guidelines for rescue boats of less than 24m length (that is, smaller than the lower limit applicable to IMO regulations) and the IMRF’s mass rescue operations project.

Our paper on the Rescue Boat Guidelines included Parts 1 & 2 and introduced Part 3 – the web-based tool: see RBG Website.) The JWG welcomed the project and noted their support for it in their report to IMO and ICAO.

The Group also expressed their thanks to the IMRF for the work done on mass rescue operations, and recommend that all SAR service providers make use of the online resource library at the MRO Website. The JWG will review the MRO guidance in the forthcoming 2016 edition of the IAMSAR Manual to see if changes are required in the light of our work, with a view to making any necessary amendments in the 2019 edition. The JWG also noted the IMRF’s MRO workshop package: see the website!

As remarked above, Volume III of the IAMSAR Manual is intended to be used by vessels and aircraft on scene. The Manual has developed piecemeal over the years, and we suggested to the JWG that it is not particularly userfriendly as a result. The JWG agreed, and have tasked us to lead an international editorial group in reorganising Volume III, ready for its 2019 edition.

We tabled Kiersten Sanders’ report, Ferry Accidents: the Challenge of Rescue 2000-2015, which examines the SAR responses to ferry accidents identified by the Worldwide Ferry Safety Association. We emphasised that Kiersten’s report had to be largely compiled from informal sources because of a lack of formal, published investigation reports, and urged that such reports should be made and shared. The JWG agreed, and noted that this project was in line with the aim of establishing a global repository of SAR information. The Group asked the IMRF to continue to investigate the possibility of establishing such a resource.

mapFinland provided the JWG with an update on their Vessel Triage project (see LIFE LINE, October 2014, page 11). The IMRF has supported this project, which seeks to improve multi-responder understanding of the condition of a ship involved in an accident, as an aid to SAR decision-making. The JWG were uncertain as to whether vessel triage is strictly a SAR tool. We believe that it is, in the sense that maritime emergency response should be holistic – but the value of the system does have to be understood for it to be useful. More work is needed here, and our colleagues in Finland are asking SAR services to trial the tool: please visit

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