Reducing the number of lives lost in the waters of Bangladesh is a top priority for the Government and the country's search and rescue services. Now some important new initiatives have been agreed upon following a maritime mass rescue operations workshop with the IMRF.
The waterways of Bangladesh are the nation's primary transport network – and accidents occur often.
More than a thousand lives are lost each year at sea, around the coast, and in inland waters in a country its own inhabitants refer to as a 'delta'. Shallow draft passenger launches are double- and even triple-decked, making the hazard of overloading a significant challenge.
Bangladesh Coast Guard grasped the opportunity to meet with the IMRF and to host a Maritime Mass Rescue Workshop, coordinating the attendance of other agencies involved in maritime SAR operations in the country, and ensuring that the event was a great success.
It was the first ever international workshop held in Bangladesh on this subject and with the support of the hosts, in particular the Minister for Home Affairs Dr Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir, led to some very effective inter-agency discussions.
Bangladesh is a country facing very significant environmental challenges, and there was extensive discussion of disaster and emergency coordination responsibilities: 'disaster' in this context relating to cyclones or floods, whereas 'significant maritime events' as portrayed in the workshop exercise are better described as surpassing the ordinary capability of any organisation to manage routinely.
It was agreed that further discussion is necessary between the agencies involved. In his closing remarks at the end of the workshop Rear Admiral Kazi Sarwar Hossain, Bangladesh Coast Guard's Director General, suggested the development of a National Strategic SAR Committee to help address the challenges identified.
Bangladesh Coast Guard has applied for IMRF membership, appreciating the benefits of becoming more integrated in 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 the IMRF and its member organisations.
A good example of this is a general SAR Manual, composed in Bangla, written after two Coast Guard officers attended training in the 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.
"The IMRF really appreciates the level of interest generated by our visit and workshop," said IMRF Chairman Michael Vlasto. "We were impressed by the commitment and genuine enthusiasm displayed by the local agencies to work together to improve maritime safety and SAR responses".
He added: "We are delighted that the Honourable Minister for Home Affairs gave so much of his time for discussions with us and that he kindly inaugurated the workshop. This commitment to a key area of his portfolio augurs well for the further development of the services provided by the Coast Guard and the other agencies involved in protecting the waterside and travelling communities of Bangladesh, and reducing the number of drownings".
The IMRF also visited Coast Guard headquarters for round-table discussions; and the Sadarghat launch terminal in Dhaka, where Coast Guard and Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority staff deal with the challenges of managing some 25 million people transiting the terminal and eight million tonnes of cargo being handled annually.
The visit to Sadarghat 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", noted IMRF CEO Bruce Reid.