SAR Bodies in Developing Nations Under Resourced

Search and rescue (SAR) authorities and organisations in developing nations are under resourced and overwhelmed because of the size of the rivers, lakes and coastlines they have to monitor, a report on ferry accidents commissioned by the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF) shows.

The report was presented at the World Maritime Rescue Congress (WMRC) in Bremerhaven yesterday and coinciding with the ferry disaster on the Yangtze River in China, one of the countries featured in the study.

The report, which examined 160 ferry accidents in 42 countries – from Australia and Bangladesh to Vietnam and Zambia – also found that ferry incidents in the European Union continued to occur at roughly the same rate in the past two decades but fatalities had markedly declined, largely due to better responses.

However, the same trend could not be seen in developing nations, where responses were the same as 15 years ago. At the time of the report being written, Myanmar has recorded their worst recorded ferry disaster in the past 15 years with more than 63 people losing their lives and volunteers leading rescue efforts with no mention of an official, organised SAR response.

The report, entitled ‘Ferry Accidents – The Challenge of Rescue’, has been produced for the IMRF by Kiersten Reid-Sander, an intern from the University of Southern Denmark.

It was apparent from the research that ferry capacity is increasing and when a mass rescue is necessary, resources are not necessarily available, with the number of victims often overwhelming rescuers. Inaccurate records of the number of passengers and crew on board ferries is a common challenge faced by rescuers in developed and developing nations.

Also, a lack of basic lifesaving and safety equipment on board ferries continues to cost lives.

For 70 of the accidents reported by the WFSA other vessels or fishermen were first on the scene to rescue victims. Official rescuers, who may have had some SAR training, are mentioned for only 40 out of 159 accidents identified by the WFSA – for example, local police, fire service, navy, coast guard and so on. In 23 cases there were no rescuers so those who survived, were the ones who swam ashore.

Lack of communication in many countries means authorities do not become aware of an accident before it is too late. Ferry accidents in developing countries often happen in remote areas where difficult terrain and vast distances can debilitate the rescue response to an emergency, the study shows.

Image: US Navy

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