Mohammed Drissi, Trustee at International Maritime Rescue Federation speaks about what he calls "Africa's silent killer": drowning. Drowning has become a silent epidemic, says Mr. Drissi, as it is causes the most deaths after malaria and malnutrition.

However, what makes it dangerous is the fact that it is often out of sight.

After Malaria and malnutrition, drowning is the cause of more deaths than any other. Although a relatively rare occurrence, aircraft incidents involving fatalities make headline news across the world, yet an overturned canoe resulting in just as many deaths does not.

Drowning has become the silent epidemic and is, unfortunately, often out of sight and out of mind.

Reducing deaths from drowning is a central pillar of the work currently being facilitated by the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF) and the continent of Africa has become a recent focus of attention.

Sadly, there is a close correlation between poverty, lack of education and high mortality rates and many African nations need help to address the many deaths that are attributed to drowning.

IMRF is an independent charity that brings the world's maritime search and rescue organisations together under a global umbrella.

Its aim is to facilitate the sharing of lifesaving ideas, technologies and experiences to achieve the common humanitarian aim of "preventing loss of life in the world's waters".

Facilitating a greater awareness of the causes of drowning, coupled with assistance to enhance the management and practical capabilities of maritime search & rescue (SAR) activities in Africa, has been spearheaded by Mohammed Drissi. Drissi is an IMRF Trustee and also head of the SAR bureau in Morocco, a former master mariner and expert on maritime affairs.

He began his work in 2012 on Africa’s northwest coast working with authorities in Mauritania, Senegal and Gambia.

The focus has now widened to include south and east Africa and also a number of central, landlocked states. Rivers and lakes present an equal hazard with lakes in Uganda recording upwards of 4,000 drownings each year.

IMRF’s work does not just protect the local population: a fully-fledged SAR operation will also save the lives of the many national and international mariners using coastal and adjacent waters.

IMRF’s work in Africa is funded by a range of partners including the Technical Cooperation Committee (TCC) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Working hand-in-hand with IMO, IMRF’s aim is to create a sustainable difference.

The first step, according to Drissi, is to help national authorities establish facilities that comply with IMO’s SAR plan and, in particular, the development of fully functional maritime rescue coordination centres (MRCCs).

Depending on the nation, work might involve enhancing a system that is already in place, or starting from scratch. Sharing best practice, running regional meetings, offering SAR and GMDSS training courses are all part of the package.

IMRF’s role is to coordinate and facilitate the work, it is IMRF members themselves – like Mohammed Drissi – and local expert SAR professionals who perform the tasks on the ground. In 2017, for example, members ran a total of 12 regional training courses attended by more than 120 locals to make them fully conversant with the requirements of IMO’s International Aeronautical and Maritime SAR manual.

Three practical boat handling courses (delivered by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and the Norwegian Society for Sea Rescue) taught practical skills; and the local network of trainers was enhanced.

But sustainability is the key.

Experience has taught IMRF that there is little point in running a handful of classroom sessions and hoping for the best. Locals must be given a hands-on opportunity to set up their systems and processes themselves.

A programme of “train the trainers” must be implemented to allow the continued sharing and widening of the indigenous skill set once IMRF has left town. And, most importantly, IMRF members must re-visit many times to ensure standards are being maintained.

According to Drissi, five years is the minimum period to train people and allow them to build their experience. After 10 years, sustainability will usually have been achieved.


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For more information and/or to get involved in our work in Africa, please contact Caroline Jupe at [email protected]