Improving Search and Rescue for the Pacific

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Development Objective 3 - Strengthen sustainable transport and energy security

Between 2015 and 2017 there were a total of 1076 maritime search and rescue incidence reported in Guam, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon islands, Kiribati, Cook Islands and Tuvalu, an exponential amount for a region of our size.

Many of the reported cases are often fishermen or people travelling between outer islands on out board motor boats. Many incidences occur due to miscalculated tides, being caught in storm surges and mechanical issues, which can led to boats being adrift for hours up to days or weeks. These are often difficult to monitor and many times these boats drift across maritime boundaries complicating the rescue effort for Pacific Island national governments.

Further compounding the issue is the sheer expanse of ocean each country covers as well as the minimal resources available to ensure adequate response in the event of a natural disaster or maritime incident. Indeed, there are international legal and moral obligations to save persons in distress at sea. To ensure this, ocean areas have been divided in Search and Rescue Regions (SRR) where responsible maritime nations have to provide harmonised and standardised SAR services. While some Pacific Islands Countries like Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Nauru have responsibilities over wide SRRs, the other Pacific Islands Countries are located in Australia, France, New Zealand and US SRRs. However, all countries must deliver and coordinate the delivery of SAR services with neighbouring countries. To facilitate this process, SPC has developed and is depository of the regional SAR Technical Arrangement for Cooperation (SAR TAfC).

This year in May, nine Pacific countries signed the SAR TAfC at the seventh Regional SAR Workshop in Auckland New Zealand, which will aid in improving Search and Rescue efforts at a regional scale. This is a major achievement since the first Regional SAR Workshop in 2005 and the efforts in terms of regional collaboration and coordination supported by SPC and the Pacific SAR Steering Committee established with Australia, France, New Zealand and US.

“With us signing the SAR Arrangement, upon receiving information of a maritime incident where any person is in distress within its respective geographic area of maritime SAR responsibility, we intend to take urgent measures to provide assistance” said Cook Islands Commissioner of Police, Maara Tevata.

“Regardless of the nationality or status of such a person or the circumstances in which the person is found,” he continued.

Addressing these concerning statistics in a more collaborative manner is the only way to successfully increase the number of successful search and rescue operations in the region. In addition this, at the same workshop the Pacific Search and Rescue Strategic Plan was launched and the various SAR stakeholders in the region committed to more training, awareness and sourcing funding for programmes that seek to address Search and Rescue in the region.