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The Sub-Committee on Navigation, Communications and SAR (NCSR) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) – the technical body looking after maritime matters for the United Nations – holds its meeting in March each year, at the IMO’s headquarters beside the River Thames in London.

As the only non-governmental SAR organisation with consultative status at the IMO, the IMRF always attends NCSR meetings. It is here that the international community agrees issues of fundamental importance to distress alerting and communications and to SAR response. NCSR also acts as the technical Sub-Committee overseeing the editing of the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual. This year the IMRF was represented at the meeting by Rebecca Jeffries and David Jardine-Smith of the secretariat.

An IMRF summary of the meeting may be found at below.

IMO’s full report will be available there in due course. Here we highlight some stand-out items. See also ‘Learning from experience – the IMRF’s role recognised by the IMO’.


IMO Model Course on SAR Mission Coordination

The IMO publishes Model Courses, designed as templates for Member States’ use in developing training across a range of maritime subjects. There are three courses on SAR, related to the three volumes of the IAMSAR Manual. The latest editions of the courses on SAR administration (IAMSAR Volume I) and the On Scene Coordinator function (Volume III) were published in 2014, and are available from the IMRF’s online bookshop at www.imrfbookshop.org. However, the course on the SAR Mission Coordinator function (Volume II) has fallen out of the review process, and is not currently available. NCSR has now agreed to re-develop this course.

The IMRF’s interest in all three of the IMO’s Model Courses on SAR stems from our fundamental aim of improving maritime SAR globally. This includes facilitating training in SAR administration and operations, including SAR mission coordination and on-scene coordination. Up-to-date courses approved by the IMO are a very useful tool in this respect. We will therefore support the re-development of the currently missing SAR Mission Coordinator Model Course as best we can.


Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs) and Night Vision Equipment

Instances of night vision equipment not detecting LEDs, reported by the IMRF (see ‘In the Dark’ in the August 2016 edition of LIFE LINE, available in the newsletter archive) were noted as presenting a significant safety risk. States are encouraged to take action, and the matter has been passed to NCSR’s parent Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) for further action as necessary. IMRF Members who have not already acted on this information are invited to consider it and bring it to the attention of their national authorities as appropriate.


SAR Cooperation Plans

The Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention requires the development of SAR cooperation plans between passenger ships trading internationally, their operators, and relevant SAR services. Guidance on how this should be done is contained in MSC Circular 1079. Problems with the process having been identified, NCSR has been conducting a review of the Circular, and the IMRF has played a significant role in this review. Final text was agreed at this meeting and, assuming that the MSC approves it, it will be issued as MSC.1/Circ.1079/Rev.1 later this year, and will then be available from the IMRF as well as from the IMO’s websites. If you have any questions about this in the meantime, please contact Dave Jardine-Smith at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Maritime Incident Response Groups (MIRG)

The IMRF supported a Finnish paper submitted to this meeting of NCSR on the Baltic Sea MIRG project and the development of joint operational guidelines for international MIRG operations (principally firefighting assistance at sea – see ‘Ship Fires in the Baltic’, in the December 2016 issue of LIFE LINE). While the information provided was welcomed by NCSR, the Sub-Committee decided – after rather brief discussion – not to forward the paper to its SAR Working Group for further consideration.

This was unexpected, and unfortunate. On-scene support of the type developed in the MIRG project is a very useful way of addressing the mass rescue operations problem, as well as being a tool in other SAR, environmental protection and salvage responses. The IMRF will continue to promote the MIRG concept, and will report progress to the IMO as and when appropriate.


Vessel Triage

Finland also presented a paper on their Vessel Triage project, reporting the results of trials and an online survey. This too was turned away without being referred to the SAR Working Group for expert assessment. This result seems to reflect misunderstanding of the concept rather than a wholly evidence-based decision: those who have reported trialling the process like it. IMRF Members can still trial and use the process: visit www.raja.fi/vesseltriage.


SAR Expert Input to International Meetings

A general request was made that SAR experts should join technical meetings considering, for example, the Cospas-Sarsat system and the ongoing review of the GMDSS (see below), to present ‘SAR user’ perspectives. The IMRF urges our member organisations to participate where they can.


SAR Points of Contact

The Cospas-Sarsat Secretariat advise that there are still a significant number of non-responsive SAR Points of Contact (SPOCs), which means that emergency beacon distress alerts may not be passed on to Rescue Coordination Centres for action (see ‘SAR Points of Contact’ in the February 2017 edition of LIFE LINE). States are encouraged to offer support and assistance regionally to help address this issue, and can make use of a model agreement developed by Cospas-Sarsat, downloadable from www.cospas-sarsat.int/en/mcc-spoc-model-agreement-template.


GISIS Entries

There are still many States which have not completed, or recently updated, their entries in the ‘Global SAR Plan’ module of the IMO’s online Global Integrated Shipping Information System: http://gisis.imo.org. IMRF Members who are, or have influence on, national SAR authorities are invited to check their State’s GISIS entry and take any action necessary. This is very important information – but it’s of little use if it’s incomplete or out of date.


Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System (GADSS)

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), IMO’s sister organisation at the United Nations, is introducing a GADSS Concept of Operations and amendments to Annex 12 of the International Convention on Civil Aviation (which deals with SAR). Both aeronautical and maritime SAR organisations should follow these developments. There is a clear need for enhanced cooperation between aviation and maritime SAR services in many areas. There’s more information at www.icao.int.


List of Documents & Publications to be Held by Maritime or Joint Rescue Coordination Centres

NCSR 4 reviewed and revised the list, which will be published as SAR.7/Circular 13. The non-mandatory documents listed are now available on the IMO’s public website, www.imo.org, under ‘Our Work’: www.imo.org/en/OurWork/Safety/RadioCommunicationsAndSearchAndRescue/SearchAndRescue/Pages/Default.aspx. The documents are also available from the IMRF: www.international-maritime-rescue.org/homeimo.


Review of the GMDSS

The modernisation of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System continues. The IMRF’s chief role in this process to date has been to emphasise that vessels which are not themselves part of IMO’s remit still require distress alerting and communications systems which should be covered under the GMDSS; and to seek to ensure that any revision will not impose undue financial burdens on developing SAR States. We will continue to present these points of view.

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