Signing of Multi-lateral agreement on North and West African sub-regional MRCC
3 March 2011
Your Excellency the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries of the Kingdom of Morocco, Ministers, Excellencies, distinguished representatives of Cape Verde, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal and the host country, media representatives, Ladies and gentlemen,
There is no doubt that even today, when all the advances in marine technology and communications and in the development of high training and qualification standards for seafarers have made ships safer than ever before, seafaring is still a challenging and sometimes dangerous occupation. However much we try to guard against them, accidents can, and do, occasionally happen and, when they do, the sea can suddenly become a very lonely, isolated and, at times, deadly workplace.
The establishment of a comprehensive, effective and worldwide system for maritime search and rescue has, consequently, long been an important objective for the global maritime community and, in particular, for IMO.
It, therefore, gives me great pleasure to participate in the signing of the eagerly anticipated multilateral Agreement on regional search and rescue co-operation that will take place shortly – an agreement that will fill a long overdue gap in the most humanitarian of all networks.
And to thank Morocco for offering to host the regional MRCC; and also thank the five countries in the sub region – Cape Verde, the Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania and Senegal – for participating in the process and for their co-operation and willingness to adopt a collaborative approach in this regard.
To be based here in Rabat, this new regional MRCC will follow in the steps of those commissioned in Mombasa, Kenya, in 2006; in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2007; in Lagos, Nigeria, in 2008; and in Monrovia, Liberia, in 2009, thus completing the final link in the chain of sub-regional African MRCCs, each with its own network of associated sub-centres.
That we are here today is testimony to the ability of IMO and its members to envisage a grand scheme and then follow it up to completion with the detailed and painstaking work that is the key to its success and eventual achievement. The grand scheme that comes to fruition today started at the IMO Conference on Search and Rescue and the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System, held in the Italian City of Florence in October 2000, when a regional approach to the provision of search and rescue services in the western, southern and eastern parts of Africa was first elaborated, negotiated and agreed.
That approach was subsequently endorsed, first by the competent IMO organ, the Sub-Committee on Radiocommunications and Search and Rescue and, later on, by its parent body, the Maritime Safety Committee.
To give effect to the regional approach that envisaged coverage of the entire African coast except for the one facing the Mediterranean Sea, the Florence Conference adopted a resolution recommending the establishment of five sub-regional centres and 26 sub-centres for search and rescue coordination purposes. The Conference thus perceived that, in this manner, all the proposed centres and sub-centres would work co-operatively to provide comprehensive search and rescue services in areas around Africa identified as lacking an adequate network of such services.
This was undoubtedly an ambitious scheme, but the establishment of appropriate SAR facilities in the African continent was seen as a key component in the overall implementation of the Global SAR Plan, which, for this region, was developed at an IMO Conference held in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1991; was progressed by the 1994 Conference in Lisbon, Portugal; and was finally agreed at another IMO Conference, held in Fremantle, Australia, in 1998.
Following the Florence Conference, IMO undertook to field fact-finding missions to each of the five African sub-regions agreed, with a view to ascertaining and advising on the urgent SAR needs of each, in terms of personnel, equipment, training and finance. For this particular part of Africa, a series of missions took place in Morocco and Senegal in 2007, in Cape Verde and Mauritania in 2008 and in Guinea-Bissau and the Gambia in 2009. For the establishment and/or upgrading of the respective MRCCs or sub-centres, the countries housing them have received or are due to receive the necessary equipment along with training for the appointed staff to enable them to conduct SAR operations effectively.
I am pleased that our work to assist in the implementation of the Global SAR Plan, through the establishment of the five sub-regional MRCCs in Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, Liberia and Morocco (that is in the five strategically located African countries bordering the Atlantic and Indian Oceans) and the 26 sub-centres, continues to progress well – and, with the signing of this Agreement today, we pass another key milestone.
Furthermore and bearing in mind the recently concluded “Year of the Seafarer”, I rejoice at the thought of the many persons who, in the future, will have cause to be grateful to those who man these SAR facilities for saving their lives and for the suffering and grieving their families and friends will be spared of as a consequence of the services provided. Establishing this network of rescue centres is nothing short of a major humanitarian undertaking and all those who have been involved in turning the dream of the Florence Conference into today’s reality deserve great credit for their achievement.
The sharing of information derived from the centres we establish will also play an important role in the fight against piracy, kidnap and ransom on the high seas – something which IMO, and the whole maritime community, has pledged to tackle with renewed vigour during 2011 in line with this year’s World Maritime Day theme “Piracy: Orchestrating the response”. This network of rescue centres (especially those covering the western Indian Ocean, which, for some time now, has been the theatre of activity of pirates operating out of Somalia) has the potential to play a significant role through information-sharing activities with other regions, and I have no doubt that the positive contribution it will make in this regard will be widely acknowledged and appreciated.
The Agreement we will sign today represents not only a major step forward for the enhancement of the maritime infrastructure of the countries concerned, but also for this region as a whole; for Africa; for the shipping industry; and, above all, for the international community of seafarers, upon whom we all rely so much.
That is why the establishment of a comprehensive, effective and worldwide system for the pro
vision of maritime search and rescue services has long been an important objective for the entire maritime community and, in particular, for IMO, as the United Nations agency with prime responsibility for the safety of life at sea.
For our part, we will continue to act as project leader, collaborating with all the parties concerned; providing expert advice, training and infrastructure facilities; and monitoring and supervising progress during all the ensuing phases.
I should like to conclude by acknowledging, with appreciation, the valuable contribution of all the Governments involved in this Agreement for their commitment to joining other, similarly committed, nations in taking this substantive step towards the provision of adequate search and rescue services in the region. I have every confidence that the broad co operation so aptly demonstrated by all the Governments involved will continue to underpin the success of the search and rescue project the Florence Conference envisaged and we undertook to accomplish.
Once again, I offer my sincere thanks to the Government of the Kingdom of Morocco for its much appreciated, overall contribution and leadership to the collective effort to move the project forward and for hosting this ceremony.
I wish those manning the SAR facilities covered by the Agreement we sign today good luck and every success in the discharge of their responsibilities – may they never be needed.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you.