Commissioning of Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre

Commissioning of Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre
Antananarivo, Madagascar
11 December 2011
Speech by Efthimios E. Mitropoulos
Secretary-General, International Maritime Organization
Ministers, Excellencies, Secretary General, Directors General, Head of the civil aviation authority of Madagascar, President and Members of the Board of Governors of the APMF, Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me first extend my sincere appreciation to His Excellency Mr. Ramanantsoa, Minister for Transports, for inviting me to Madagascar on the occasion of the commissioning of this rescue coordination centre to act as sub-centre for the region.

There is no doubt that, despite the continual advances made in ship technology and in the training and education of seafarers, seafaring remains a challenging and, sometimes, dangerous occupation. Accidents can, and do, unfortunately happen and, when they do, the sea can suddenly become a very lonely, isolated and, at times, deadly place.

The establishment of a comprehensive, effective and worldwide system for maritime search and rescue has, consequently, long been one of the prime and main objectives of the entire maritime community and, in particular, of IMO, as the United Nations agency with prime responsibility for the safety of life at sea.

It, therefore, gives me great pleasure to be here at the commissioning of this new facility, which will form a vital link in the global search and rescue chain that IMO has been working diligently to establish for many years. It also marks a major step forward for Madagascar; for this region; for the maritime and shipping world as a whole; and for the international community of seafarers upon the services of whom we all rely so much. I should like to thank all concerned for assisting in, and contributing to, this landmark event.

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 with the detailed and painstaking work necessary to bring it to fruition that is the key to success.
It all started in October 2000, at an IMO Conference on Search and Rescue and the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System, which was held in the Italian city of Florence, when a regional approach to the provision of search and rescue services in western, southern and eastern parts of Africa was first proposed. This was subsequently endorsed by IMO’s Sub-Committee on Radiocommunications and Search and Rescue and its parent body, the Maritime Safety Committee.

To give effect to the regional approach, the Florence Conference also adopted a resolution proposing the establishment of five regional Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres along the coastline of Africa, which (in conjunction with 26 sub-centres, established on the continent and on nearly island States) would work co-operatively to provide search and rescue coverage in what had previously been identified as one of the areas of the world that lacked a well-structured, firmly established and diligently operated search and rescue and GMDSS infrastructure.

This was undoubtedly an ambitious scheme, but the establishment of appropriate SAR facilities in this part of the world was seen as a key component in the implementation of the Global SAR Plan, the compilation of which had been concluded at another IMO Conference held in Fremantle, Australia, in 1998.

Over the last few years, excellent progress has been made in putting in place the facilities and systems required to turn the Plan into reality. The commissioning, in March of this year, of the Morocco sub-regional MRCC, near Rabat, was a crowning achievement in a process that had already seen the commissioning of MRCCs 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 chain of sub-regional African MRCCs, each with its own network of associated sub-centres, that had been envisaged by the Conference in Florence. Today, with the commissioning of this facility in Antananarivo, one of the 26 sub-centres foreseen in 2000, we are adding another piece of the jigsaw puzzle for this particular region.
This network of regional MRCCs and their associated sub centres will serve well the overall objective of improving existing capabilities for maritime search and rescue, while, at the same time, strengthening the capacity of the countries in the region to ensure effective response to threats to maritime security, at the same time making a valuable contribution towards preventing and suppressing acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships.

The project to establish this network is funded by an International SAR Fund, which was set up in the context of a corresponding resolution also adopted by the Florence Conference and which is carried out within the framework of IMO’s Integrated Technical Co-operation Programme. It provides an excellent example of how our technical co operation activities can yield demonstrable, effective results that serve the greater good of all; reflecting, at the same time, IMO’s determination to respond, as comprehensively and effectively as possible, to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, in the process of which we have placed special emphasis on the maritime needs of Africa.

I should, therefore, take this opportunity to pay tribute to the broad co-operation established among IMO, stakeholders from both governmental and non-governmental sectors and, most of all, the host Governments in this region that has enabled this part of the overall scheme to be brought to a successful conclusion. Tribute is also due to my colleagues in IMO, both at Headquarters and in the region, for their commitment and invaluable contribution to the fruitful outcome.

Having said that, I wish to pay a special tribute and say a big “Thank you”, on the part of the entire maritime community, to Madagascar for having accepted responsibility for the coordination of SAR operations in a sizeable ocean area going far beyond its national territorial seas.  This is an act that deserves to be acknowledged with deep appreciation. 

The commissioning of this facility, here in Antananarivo, will help to fill a considerable gap in the effective coverage of a vast area of the south western part of the Indian Ocean.  This is a matter of a profound humanitarian nature that has genuine historical value and will earn the deep and permanent appreciation of all seafarers, fishermen and passengers, who may, in an emergency at sea, depend, for their very survival, on the prompt and effective intervention of SAR authorities and their successful coordination of any operation deemed necessary in the circumstances. 

The experience gained in the successful establishment and operation of these centres in Africa will serve as an example for other regions to follow.  We are currently embarking on a similar project for seven countries in Central America, involving the creation of two regional MRCCs, covering areas of the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea respectively, together with five associated sub-centres.

In conclusion, I would like to congratulate the Government of Madagascar as I officially commission this MRSC facility to which I wish every success in the discharge of its vital and heavy responsibilities.

Manning the Antananarivo Centre on a 24 hour basis will require vigilance, professionalism and a sharp reaction to events – it will not be an easy task!  May those who serve in it live up to our expectations and may they have the blessings of those who will owe their lives to the prompt and effective execution of their duties. They and their families will be in their debt forever.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you.