International Joint Working Group Meets to Improve SAR

Posted in LIFELINE November 2017 - English

Each year maritime and aeronautical SAR experts come together to discuss and make improvements to global SAR arrangements, in a Joint Working Group (JWG) organised by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) – the relevant technical bodies of the United Nations. The JWG comprises eight maritime and eight aeronautical SAR experts drawn from member States, and includes observers from others and from non-Governmental organisations. The IMRF has long played an active part in the Group’s work, as the world’s leading NGO representing the SAR community.

This year the JWG met in Wellington, the bright and breezy capital of New Zealand, from 2 to 6 October 2017. David Jardine-Smith, of the secretariat, was there for the IMRF.

This was a meeting with a particularly full agenda. The JWG considers many SAR-related items passed to it by ICAO and IMO, and also acts as the editorial group for the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual; the core guide to SAR worldwide. IAMSAR is re-published every three years: the next edition will appear in mid-2019. Because of IMO’s approval structure (ICAO’s is simpler), this meeting of the JWG was the last which could contribute to the 2019 edition. This meant that there was a great deal of work to conclude at this session, much of it involving the IMRF.

A total of 38 papers were considered in Wellington, most very detailed and some requiring consideration by ‘splinter groups’ during the meeting. The IMRF presented or co-presented nine papers, chaired one splinter group and participated in others. This article reports some of the highlights of what was a very successful meeting.


Amendments to the IAMSAR Manual – Mass Rescue Operations

Having heard a report on our MRO project work at its session in 2015, the JWG asked the IMRF to review the MRO guidance published in IAMSAR. We proposed extensive revisions at this meeting, and final text was agreed for the Manual’s 2019 edition. We will now monitor the progress of these amendments through the IMO approval process, and will amend our own guidance (which refers to IAMSAR) in line with the publication of the 2019 edition.


IMRF’s 2017 MRO Conference & SME Training Course

The IMRF’s fourth mass rescue conference and our first MRO subject-matter training course were both held in Sweden in June (see the August edition of LIFE LINE, in the newsletter archive at We presented a short report on the two events to the JWG, noting the continuing high level of interest in the subject. We will consider running further courses and more in our series of MRO workshops, depending on demand and on funding and facilitators being available. (For more information, e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)


Reorganisation of the Contents of IAMSAR Vol. III 

Volume III of the IAMSAR Manual provides the primary guidance for SAR units and ‘additional SAR facilities’: it is required to be carried on SOLAS ships. However, it has developed piecemeal over the years, and its current layout is confusing. Making it more user-friendly should improve SAR response by ‘vessels of opportunity’ in particular, and the IMRF proposed this a couple of years ago.

The JWG subsequently agreed a framework for reorganising Volume III, and our good friend Stein Solberg, the maritime JWG member for Norway, did great work intersessionally to prepare a fully reorganised text. Other amendments to the text, proposed by other JWG members and observers, were incorporated into the reorganised draft by a splinter group led by David Jardine-Smith in Wellington, and a final text was agreed. The 2019 edition of Volume III should be easier to use!


Definitions of the Phases of Emergency in the IAMSAR Manual

Last year the JWG noted that the definitions of the three emergency phases in the Maritime SAR Convention and the Convention on International Civil Aviation differ – and that the definitions in the IAMSAR Manual differ again. The JWG agreed that, while it has not been tasked to work on the Convention texts, the IAMSAR definitions should be better aligned. IMRF was asked to lead an intersessional group to consider the matter.

What constitutes ‘uncertainty’, ‘alert’ and ‘distress’ is important, and the intersessional group discussed the definitions in depth. However, it was unable to agree new ones. Consequently the JWG agreed that, while the IAMSAR definitions are less than satisfactory, they should be left as they are for now. As the Group’s primary purpose is to harmonise aeronautical and maritime SAR, however, further work on this disharmony will be done in future. (‘Defining distress’ will also be discussed in the next Edition of LIFE LINE).


SAR in Areas Remote from SAR facilities

Following work by Canada & Sweden on the responsibilities of SAR authorities, rescue coordination centres and on-scene coordinators in areas remote from SAR facilities, the JWG had previously agreed that there was a need to develop a definition for such areas and to include suitable guidance in IAMSAR. Sweden led further work on this intersessionally, to which the IMRF contributed. A definition – ‘an area within which there may be an extended SAR response time due to the incident location and/or environmental conditions’ – has now been agreed and this will appear in the next edition of the Manual, together with guidance on conducting SAR in such circumstances.


Sharing SAR Lessons

Sharing SAR ‘lessons learned’ (or, more properly, ‘lessons identified’: see ‘Learning lessons’) has been a surprising but real problem for years. Everyone agrees the value of it, but the SAR community is not as good at it as we should be, and neither IMO nor ICAO have the capability to support a sharing platform. The JWG had previously asked the IMRF (for whom sharing such lessons is, of course, a primary activity) to take the lead on this, and to prepare text for the IAMSAR Manual advising on our service and providing contact details. The 2019 edition of the Manual will include references to IMRF accordingly, and the secretariat will review our arrangements to encourage such sharing.


Revision of IAMSAR Text on the Second Geneva Convention

The IMRF has been advising the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on the parts of their review of the Commentaries on the Second Geneva Convention which relate to SAR in armed conflict situations: see the August edition of LIFE LINE. The JWG has now agreed to update the IAMSAR Manual accordingly.


The Lorén Turn

IAMSAR Volume III contains advice on three ship manoeuvres intended to assist in man-overboard situations. At the IMRF’s suggestion a fourth will be added to the 2019 edition: the Lorén Turn, developed as part of the Swedish FIRST Project led by Captain Jörgen Lorén, of Stena Line. See ‘Going Round in Circles’.


Self-Assessment and International SAR Agreements

The JWG agreed a revised format for the 'National self-assessment on search and rescue' contained in IAMSAR Volume I, Appendix H. Such self-assessments, if honestly undertaken, are of great value, and assist in the further development of the global SAR plan. Similarly, there was discussion on whether simpler international SAR agreement processes should be developed, to encourage better cooperation across borders. Further work will be done on this.


‘Invisible’ Lighting

The problem of some LED-fitted safety and lifesaving equipment being near-invisible to night vision equipment (first raised by IMRF at last year’s JWG meeting) was again discussed. Action on this at ICAO and IMO will be slow at best. In the meantime every effort should be made to make users aware of the potential problem. See ‘In the Dark’ in the August 2016 edition of LIFE LINE, available from the newsletter archive, and pass the word on!


Model Courses on SAR

IMO publish ‘model courses’ to guide SAR training. The courses on SAR administration and on-scene coordination are up to date, but the SAR mission coordinators’ course has fallen behind. The US and Iran are developing a revised course, and asked the JWG for advice. Their draft will be reviewed by a group of experts once it is complete. The IMRF will continue to contribute to the review process, as these model courses are significant tools in SAR development.


Contact Info

International Maritime Rescue Federation
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AB39 2RA
United Kingdom

Telephone: +44 (0) 1569 767405

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