A mass rescue operation – indeed, any incident beyond ‘everyday’ capability – is a challenge for any State and any SAR organisation; but this is particularly so for small States and organisations, whose planning and response capabilities are naturally limited.

A cruise ship accident in the Caribbean, for example, where many such ships trade, is a very rare event, but still a possible one. And the rarity is part of the problem.

How do you prepare for such huge, once-in-a-career challenges?

IMRF Members the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), an executive agency of the United Kingdom Government, takes this question very seriously. The UK has a number of Overseas Territories, most of which are very small but all of whom have responsibilities under international law to prepare for SAR response.

The MCA is running an Overseas Territories Search and Rescue (OTSAR) Capability Project “with the purpose of reviewing and improving existing search and rescue capabilities within and across the Caribbean and South Atlantic Overseas Territories”.

As a part of the project the MCA and their UK Overseas Territories partners are considering the necessary preparations to handle mass rescue cases.

In late January representatives of the Caribbean territories – the Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Anguilla, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands – met with MCA colleagues in Miami, Florida, to discuss mass rescue operations.

The IMRF’s MRO Project manager, David Jardine-Smith, was among the outside experts invited to address the meeting. David introduced participants to the IMRF’s online library of information on mass rescue operations, at www.imrfmro.org, and invited them to use this information to help them learn from others’ experience of these very challenging events.

Among the OTSAR Project’s overall objectives are the following – which the IMRF supports as important to SAR development anywhere in the world:

identify synergies to improve SAR coordination;
familiarise participants with the procedures for the establishment of an adequate and effective SAR service, including national SAR plans, coordinating committees, internal cooperation and the establishment of policies and standard operating procedures;
develop a SAR competency framework, training needs analysis, training and exercise programmes, and a qualification and certification framework;
know the key aspects of a basic SAR system, including concept, components, training and exercises, communications, system management, and the improvement of services;
promote debate on how to improve SAR capabilities and the cooperation between and across the territories and in the region; and,
provide the opportunity to exchange experiences, best practices and lessons learnt.

The January mass rescue event in Miami will be followed by another meeting in March, at which the participants hope to test some of their planning in tabletop exercises, with the assistance of United States Coast Guard and French experts from the region as well as the MCA team.

The IMRF has invited the OTSAR Project’s Operational Lead, Philipp Bostock, and representatives of the territories concerned to attend the World Maritime Rescue Congress in Vancouver in June – see www.wmrc2019.com – and share their experiences of this valuable SAR development project.

We can all learn from each other, which is what the Congress, like the OTSAR workshops in Miami, is all about!

Photo: Credit to MCARed Ensign Group OTSAR