IMRF at the IMO

Posted in LIFE LINE May 2018 - English

The International Maritime Organization (IMO)’s Sub-Committee on Safety of Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue (NCSR) is the principal body discussing SAR at the international level and, as we reported in the February edition of LIFE LINE, the IMRF – as a Non-Governmental Organisation with consultative status at the IMO – attends the annual meetings of NCSR as part of our advocacy role on behalf of the global SAR community.

This year’s meeting ran from 19-23 February, and our CEO, Theresa Crossley, was there, together with Caroline Jupe of the Secretariat and Andreas Arvidsson, coordinator of our African SAR capability survey, a project we are running on IMO’s behalf.

As the name of the Sub-Committee suggests, it deals with many matters not directly relevant to SAR; and, as regular readers of this newsletter will know, much of the detailed SAR work is delegated by NCSR to a Joint Working Group of the IMO and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) – at which the IMRF is also represented.

This last year has been a particularly busy one for the Joint Working Group, with a lot of IMRF input; and all that work had to be reported to NCSR.

An IMRF report of the meeting can be found on our website, but here are some of the highlights.


Review of the GMDSS

The modernisation of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System continues. The IMRF has been monitoring this, seeking to ensure that all those dependent on the system are remembered – not just those who can afford the fanciest gear! At NCSR this year we co-sponsored a paper urging that SAR communications – needed in the urgency and uncertainty phases of emergencies, not just the distress phase – should be protected. These points were noted and will be borne in mind as the modernisation process continues.


Developments in GMDSS Satellite Services

Cospas-Sarsat has produced a series of short training videos that are publicly available for use by SAR professionals to improve their understanding of the MEOSAR system and next-generation beacon technology:


Measures to Protect the Safety of Persons Rescued at Sea

The Maritime Safety Committee (to which NCSR reports) has noted the continuing problem of "unsafe mixed migration at sea" and has restated its position that, among other things, maritime SAR is not an acceptable long-term solution, and the way forward is to promote appropriate and effective action at the United Nations. The IMRF supports this position, and joins the Committee in urging full reporting of incidents at sea to IMO, to maintain the pressure for action by the UN.


Global SAR Plan

The IMO Secretariat provided information on the status of the Global SAR Plan as available in the Global Integrated Shipping Information System (GISIS – see

Several Member States have updated their Global SAR Plan entries in the past year, but many have not. Having updated information available helps Rescue Coordination Centres to act promptly when they are dealing with a distress situation across borders. The Sub-Committee encouraged Member States to check their information in GISIS regularly and update it when changes are required.


Problems with LED Lighting

As previously brought to the attention of IMO and ICAO by the IMRF, there are potential safety issues arising from the fact that some Light Emitting Diode (LED) obstruction and hazard lights are not detectable on Night Vision Devices (NVD). It was also highlighted that some distress alerting devices are equipped with LED lights or strobes and, if these are not detectable by NVD, locating persons in distress will be harder. Member States were reminded of the need to take regulatory action and to raise awareness of the potential problem, as appropriate.


SAR Aircraft Flight Management Systems

Concerns exist about flight management systems (FMS) used on SAR aircraft. The lack of an international standard requires search plans to be entered into different FMS in different ways, causing inefficiency and possible errors. A more detailed set of international standards for search pattern specifications and methods of search pattern performance should be developed, taking into account operational needs. Proposals are invited.


Amendments to the IAMSAR Manual

The International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual is updated every three years, and this meeting of NCSR represented the end of the current cycle. The meeting endorsed the amendments prepared by the ICAO/IMO Joint Working Group in 2015, 2016 and 2017 and sent them forward for formal approval by the Maritime Safety Committee. These amendments will become applicable on 1 July 2019 and will be published in the 2019 edition of the Manual.

The IMRF has contributed significantly to the JWG’s work in this respect: 

•   a reference to the IMRF as a SAR information source will be added to Volumes I & II;
the MRO guidance contained in Volumes I & II will be amended;
the contents of Volume III will be reorganised to make it more user-friendly – this is the volume intended to be carried by SAR units and SOLAS ships, and should be as easy to use in an emergency as possible;
amended text on the SAR implications of the 2nd Geneva Convention, prepared by the International Committee of the Red Cross and supported by the IMRF, will be included; and
text on the ‘Lorén turn’ – a manoeuvre which will help masters trying to rescue people in a seaway – will be added: see ‘Going Round in Circles’ in the November 2017 edition of LIFE LINE.


Future meetings at the IMO in which the IMRF will be taking an interest are the next session of the Maritime Safety Committee, 16-25 May 2018; the Technical Cooperation Committee meeting, 18-22 June 2018; and the 25th session of the ICAO/IMO Joint Working Group on SAR, which will be in Seattle, USA, 17-21 September 2018.

The sixth session of NCSR is expected to take place 21-25 January 2019.

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