Maritime Rescue, Piracy Top Agenda

Wednesday, May 10, 2006
The commissioning of a regional maritime rescue co-ordination centre as well as meetings with the Presidents of both Kenya and Tanzania were among highlights of a recent mission to Africa by IMO Secretary-General Efthimios E. Mitropoulos.

Mr. Mitropoulos began a busy three days (3 to 6 May) of meetings with a visit to the President of Kenya, His Excellency Mr. Mwai Kibaki in the capital, Nairobi. Th e two discussed matters of mutual interest, in particular arrangements for the diplomatic conference to adopt a new international convention on wreck removal which Kenya is to host on IMO’s behalf next year.

Mr. Mitropoulos then travelled to Mombasa, where he first visited the Mission to Seafarers. In praising seafarers for their services to the community, he described them as “the soul, heart and brains of a ship”. After addressing the seafarers present, he answered questions on a variety of topics.

Also in Mombasa, Mr Mitropoulos commissioned a new regional Maritime Search and Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC). This is the first such facility to be inaugurated following a resolution adopted by the IMO Conference on search and rescue (SAR) and the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), held in October 2000 in Florence, Italy, proposing the establishment of five sub-regional MRCCs in western, southern and eastern parts of Africa. A second regional MRCC under this initiative is expected to be opened in Cape Town, South Africa, before the end of this year, while three more, in West Africa (Nigeria, Liberia and Morocco), are currently at the planning stage.

Along with its associated Maritime Rescue Sub-Centres (MRSCs) in Victoria (Seychelles) and Dar es Salaam (United Republic of Tanzania), the Mombasa MRCC will provide search and rescue coverage in what had previously been identified as one of the areas suffering unduly from a lack of adequate SAR and GMDSS facilities.

Speaking to the staff of the MRCC during the commissioning ceremony, Mr. Mitropoulos took the opportunity to point out the immense importance of the work that lay before them.

He said, “I congratulate you on your employment and on the humanitarian task you will be asked to perform, 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week, 365 days-a-year – the same hard tasks shipping performs in the service of the community.

“The Indian Ocean has many times, most recently with the 2004 tsunami, shown its inhospitable face and has caused many disasters to the detriment of shipping, with the loss of precious human lives and the destruction of the marine environment.”

He went on to speak of the zeal and enthusiasm with which he felt sure the staff would undertake their heavy duties and offered them these words of advice: “Never be complacent, never underestimate the seriousness of any distress incident you handle and never consider any incident to be the same as another – because each has its peculiarities and special characteristics that demand special attention.”

He reminded staff that they would be the last hope of seafarers for whom fate had in store the bitter experience of a shipwreck, but would be the first they would thank once rescued and safe on solid ground, earning their eternal gratitude and that of their families.

Mr. Mitropoulos also stressed the importance of continual personnel training to ensure that the knowledge and professional skills of the staff of the Centre could be kept up to date with developments in the sophisticated satellite and terrestrial communication systems with which the new facility is equipped.

Moving on to the United Republic of Tanzania, Mr. Mitropoulos travelled to the capital, Dar es Salaam, to meet the country’s president, His Excellency Mr. Benjamin William Mkapa. He also visited the Mission to Seafarers there, and inspected the site of the Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre that is due to come into operation later this year.

As part of a wide-ranging agenda, Mr. Mkapa and Mr. Mitropoulos discussed matters of mutual concern including the increasing threat of piracy in east African waters. When in service, the Dar es Salaam facility will act not only as a rescue sub-centre but will also undertake personnel training, vessel traffic surveillance and piracy monitoring.

Both the Mombasa MRCC and its associated MRSCs have been funded through the International SAR Fund (ISAR Fund), the establishment of which was approved by the IMO Council in June 2004 to cover, initially, the establishment of the five regional MRCCs and 26 MRSCs in Africa. The ISAR Fund is a multi-donor trust fund, under the auspices of the Secretary-General, designed to assist countries to put into place an adequate SAR infrastructure and, by doing so, boost IMO’s efforts to implement the Global Search and Rescue Plan, agreed at the IMO Conference held in 1998 in Fremantle, Australia. To establish the Mombasa MRCC, funds were also used from the Tsunami Maritime Relief Fund established by IMO soon after the catastrophe suffered by the Indian Ocean countries in the wake of the tsunami of 26 December 2004.

The new facilities have been described by Secretary-General Mitropoulos as excellent, tangible examples of what can be achieved when the need is sufficiently compelling and the will to succeed is sufficiently strong, and that the experience gained from them should serve as examples for other regions to follow.

In his discussions with the two Presidents, he took the opportunity to draw attention to how IMO’s technical co-operation activities could yield demonstrable, effective results that serve the greater good of all. He also highlighted how the establishment of the search and rescue facilities reflected very well the theme for this year’s World Maritime Day, which is “Technical Co-operation: IMO's response to the 2005 World Summit”, through which special emphasis will be placed on the maritime needs of Africa and on IMO’s contribution to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.

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