London, Thursday, August 22nd. Reducing the number of people who lose their lives in the waters of Bangladesh is a top priority for the Government and the country's search and rescue services (SAR), and a few important new initiatives have been agreed upon following a Mass Rescue Operations (MRO) workshop with the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF).
The waterways in and around Bangladesh continue to be the primary means of transporting people. More than thousand lives are lost each year at sea, around the coast, and in other waters as launches and crafts continue to grow in size with double, and even, triple decked launches being built, making the hazard of overloading a significant challenge.
Bangladesh Coast Guard grasped the opportunity to meet with IMRF and organized a Maritime Mass Rescue Workshop (MMRW), in which they took the lead of hosting and coordinating and ensured the event was a success by assembling almost all the Agencies involved in the Maritime SAR operation in the country.
It was the first ever international workshop held in Bangladesh and with the support of the hosts, in particular, the Minister for Home Affairs, Dr Muhiddin Khan Alamgir, MP, led to some very effective inter-agency discussions.
There was an extensive discussion on disaster coordination responsibilities, which identified that "disaster" in this context relates to cyclones or floods, whereas "significant maritime events" as portrayed in the Maritime Mass Rescue Workshop (MMRW) exercise, are not always considered as a simple disaster, but surpass the capability of any organisation to manage.
Some lines of responsibility were identified with no clear conclusion of which agency should take the lead in some situations. The same issue was obvious while discussing events with both Maritime and Land SAR involved with responsibility for coordination, and appropriate leadership was unclear.
It was agreed that further discussion was necessary between the agencies involved and in his closing remarks Rear Admiral Sarwar Hossain, Director General Bangladesh Coast Guard, suggested the development of a National Strategic SAR Committee that might help addressing the challenges identified in the workshop.
The model used in many countries of a Strategic SAR committee containing key decision makers from the Maritime SAR agencies, was a concept that was presented by the workshop participants.
In addition, Bangladesh Coast Guard has applied to the IMRF for its membership, appreciating the benefits of becoming more integrated into the International Maritime SAR community. As a rapidly developing organization, the Coast Guard is keen to take advantage of the contacts and information sharing provided by IMRF and its member organizations.
A good example of this is a general SAR Manual, composed in Bangla, written after two Coast Guard Officers attended a 10 days training in UK and Ireland's Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) College in Poole, England. On their return, they used the knowledge they had gained and adapted some of the RNLI resource materials to produce the manual.
To build on this relationship the Coast Guard plans to send two representatives to next month's IMRF Asia Pacific Regional Meeting in Hong Kong and will provide attendees with a presentation on how MR events are currently being managed in Bangladesh and how the IMRF's Workshop has augmented their process.
Said IMRF Chairman, Michael Vlasto. "The IMRF really appreciates the level of interest generated by our visit and workshop. We are impressed by the commitment and genuine enthusiasm displayed by the agencies to work together to improve maritime safety and SAR responses".
He added: "We are delighted that the Honourable Minister for Home Affairs gives so much of his time for discussions with us and kindly inauguarates the workshop. This commitment to a key area of his portfolio augurs well for the further development of the services provided by Coast Guard and the other agencies involved in protecting the communities and reducing the number of drownings".
Following the Workshop, the IMRF trustees spent a couple of hours at the Sadarghat launch terminal where Coast Guard and Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) operational staff deal with the challenges of managing around 25 million people transiting through the terminal and eight million metric tons of cargo being handled annually.
"This visit to the launch terminal underpinned some of the challenges discussed in the workshop. The combination of river conditions, extreme weather, flooding and the huge number of people on the water at any given time, make this a particularly difficult area to provide SAR coverage".
During the IMRF visit, formal meetings were held at the Naval HQ with the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral M Farid Habib and with the Minister for Home Affairs, Dr Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir, MP.
Discussions were also held at a formal dinner with 60 delegates from the Home Affairs Ministry, Fire Service and Civil Defence, CoastGuard, Navy, the Ministry of Shipping and the BITWA.
See picture attached of IMRF Chairman, Michael Vlasto, with the minister for Home Affairs DrMuhiuddin Khan Alamgir, MP and Rear Admiral Kazi Sarwar Hossain, Director General of the Bangladesh Coast Guard in the background, on the eve of the Maritime Mass Rescue Workshop.