IMO, IHO and IALA meet to co-ordinate tsunami responses

At the invitation of the IMO Secretary-General Efthimios Mitropoulos, officials from IMO, the International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities (IALA) and the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) met at IMO headquarters in London today (12 January 2005) to discuss their Organizations' immediate responses to the south Asian tsunami disaster and to agree a joint plan for future actions as the crisis moves into the recovery and restoration phases.

The three organizations, together with the World Meteorological Organization which was unable to attend the meeting but is an integral part of the co-ordinated approach, are focusing their attention principally on ensuring the integrity of the maritime navigational infrastructure; to ensure the safe navigation of ships, including those carrying urgently needed relief supplies; assessing what improvements can be made to the promulgation of maritime safety information; and making a positive contribution to the efforts now underway to establish a tsunami early warning system for the Indian ocean.

Both IALA and IHO have already begun the process of assessing in detail the extent of the damage to ports and their approaches, navigational channels and navigational aids in the affected areas. Although feedback from member organizations in the affected countries is still far from complete, early reports indicate that some damage has occurred and that co-operation between affected countries and relevant international Organizations to effect initial repairs is underway.

In Sri Lanka, for example, the loss of a hydrographic survey vessel fitted with sophisticated hydrographic equipment has been offset in the short term by the use of other survey vessels available in the area with similar capabilities. Reports from India reveal that differential GPS ground stations have been put out of action, while in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands only around 40 per cent of the navigational aids are reported as fully functional.

IMO stands ready to carry out needs' assessment missions to the affected areas and both IHO and IALA have agreed to send experts to participate jointly in such missions wherever appropriate. The three organizations also discussed plans to co-ordinate the offers of material assistance, such as the provision of workboats, buoys, channel markers and so on, that are already beginning to be made.

It was agreed at the meeting that the current system for promulgating maritime safety information via Navarea Co-ordinators should be re-evaluated in the light of the tsunami disaster. For example, a standardized format for tsunami warnings may have to be developed and adjustments made to the Navtex, SafetyNet and World-Wide Navigation System manuals accordingly; and relevant amendments to the SOLAS Convention may also be proposed.

In terms of the contribution that the maritime community might make to the proposed tsunami early warning system for the Indian Ocean, the meeting agreed that the robust and well-proven satellite and radio-based communications infrastructure that IMO has established for the promulgation of maritime safety information to ships had the potential to play an important role. IMO is to send a representative to the World Conference on Disaster Reduction, organized by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction in Kobe, Japan, from 18 to 22 January, to participate in discussions about how to move this important initiative forward. He will also inform the conference of the joint efforts agreed at the meeting.

The joint action plan adopted by the meeting, which will be submitted to the appropriate bodies of the three organizations, recommending appropriate action at the regulatory level, contained the following key elements:

Short term

  • Assess the extent of damage to navigational aids in the affected areas, in co-operation with national authorities
  • Assess and undertake preliminary re-survey for any reported changes in depths in the affected areas particularly ports, restricted navigational areas, the Malacca Strait and other areas as needed
  • Issue advice to shipping as appropriate, through existing networks

Medium/long term

  • Technical co-operation activities including needs' assessment missions; mobilizing and co-ordinating resources accordingly
  • Assess and define new charting requirements
  • Marking of new dangers, if necessary
  • Assess the need to improve procedures for checking navigational aids and providing relevant warnings following natural disasters
  • Participate in establishing an appropriate tsunami early warning system for the Indian Ocean, in co-operation with UNESCO/IOC and others
  • Consider and incorporate consequential amendments to the Organizations' basic documents as appropriate

At the conclusion of the meeting, the IMO Secretary-General joined with IHO President Admiral Alexandros Maratos and IALA Secretary-General Mr Torsten Kruuse in re-stating their heartfelt condolences to all who had been caught up in the tragedy and re-affirming their full commitment to contributing to the recovery and reconstruction efforts in the affected areas.

Briefing 04/2005
12 Jan 2005

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IMO - the International Maritime Organization - is the United Nations specialized agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships. Web site: www.imo.org

IHO is an Inter-Governmental Organization with an agreement of co-operation with IMO (www.iho.shom.fr)

IALA is a Non-Governmental Organization in consultative status with IMO
(www.iala-aism.org)

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Lee Adamson, Head, Public Information Services on 020 7587 3153 (media@imo.org) or
Natasha Brown, External Relations Officer on 020 7587 3274 (media@imo.org ).