Morocco becomes Africa's search and rescue training hub

JOC Staff |

Morocco has become a key area for maritime search and rescue (SAR) training and has been designated to host the regional centre covering the sea areas of the countries of Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, the Gambia, Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau.

Next week sees the latest meeting of the regional North and West African maritime SAR development team, where there will be discussion of the International Maritime Organization (IMO)’s global SAR plan and its implementation in this area.

For SAR purposes Morocco itself covers an area of more than one million square kilometres where fleets of merchant, fishing and sailing vessels operate.

The density of the traffic in the area and the multiple shipping risks led the Moroccan government to establish a national SAR organization to plan and coordinate operations at sea.

Since then, the importance of the Moroccan operation has grown. The Ocean Fisheries Department has been given the responsibility of establishing, developing and maintaining maritime SAR organizations in Morocco.

The Ministry manages maritime SAR policy, international agreements, conventions and operational matters. It also coordinates, liaises, trains, equips, staffs, maintains, prepares finance, develops procedures and operational plans and conducts exercises.

The organization now includes a Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) based in Bouznika (35 km south of Rabat) and a fleet of 42 specialized SAR units.

The coordination of Morocco’s national SAR organization is the responsibility of Mohammed Drissi, who is also Chairman of the North West African regional development group – set up by the IMO – and the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF)’s regional coordinator.

Such was the importance of training and coordination that the IMRF and the IMO, along with the Ocean Fisheries Department, provided the support to enable a project led by Mohammed Drissi to bring delegates together from seventeen of the North West and West African maritime countries.

“After a first meeting with Mohammed Drissi almost ten years ago,” says Hamish McDonald, “I, through my role as an IMRF Trustee, have had involvement in trying to assist in the development of maritime safety and search and rescue within the NW African maritime region.

“Initially support was provided to the Moroccan SAR authorities but this effort rapidly expanded through the establishment of the North West Africa Regional SAR group and latterly to the inclusion of the West Africa and Central Africa Regions.”

“The management of crises at sea is part of a global as well as a national concern. It always has two aspects, civilian and military, that are complementary, indivisible, and interdependent because they have the same goal: which is to bring back sailors and others in distress safely back to ports,” adds Mohammed Drissi. “To reach this goal, civilian and military cooperation is key to the success of this operation.”

An on-scene coordination course has been held in Agadir. The aim of the course was to provide the delegates with an overview of relevant functions that exist within a SAR mission. In particular, responsibilities and tasks and interaction with SAR resources or facilities were discussed, to provide delegates with insight into the role of On Scene Coordinator, as defined in IMO’s International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual.

Delegates were also told about implementation of the SAR Action Plan. This included explanation of on-scene assessment of factors that may compromise safety of SAR operations and maintenance of accurate records of search and rescue incidents as well as provision of effective situational reports to the SAR Mission Coordinator.

In addition, those involved were trained in communication of the SAR Action Plan to participating units and monitoring of SAR efforts including adjustment of the SAR Action Plan as appropriate.

The theoretical and practical format and presentation of the course included an overview of the framework of IAMSAR and an outline of the basic operational implications. There was also an overview of the basic principles of SAR service provision and a review and discussion of a SAR mission scenario with the aim of enabling delegates to define the roles and responsibilities of the available SAR resources.

Other areas covered included methodology, technology, capability and limitations relating to Probability of Detection in searches, and methodology, capability and limitations relating to the calculation of the effects of the various natural forces acting on an object in the water. There was also a table top exercise on search patterns and on-scene command, control and communication.

Theoretical exercises involved the delegates making a review of a SAR mission scenario then defining a SAR Plan and individual and cumulative SAR asset roles and responsibilities.

A practical exercise at sea featured the implementation of the delegates’ pre-defined SAR Plan from the perspective of the designated On Scene Coordinator and relevant designated SAR resources.

“From my perspective as course deliverer, the level of genuine participation by all the delegates was high,” said Hamish.

“Due to the naturally differing perspectives of delegates which have developed through working in the very varied operational and resource backgrounds within such an extensive area, I would make the following suggestions.

“Consideration should be given to provision of localised follow-on programmes. These localised advisory/training programmes should include specific, practical SAR operational exercises aimed to develop the relevant individual, group and multi-agency skill sets. Leading on from these programmes, individual, group and multi-agency cross-border scenario training should be initiated.”

Overall, Hamish said he believed that the Agadir program was very successful and was a step along the way of continuing development of maritime SAR in the region. Apart from the immediate prime training focus of the course the programme facilitates both social and professional networking of the delegates.

This networking and relationship development, he added, must not be underestimated in importance and benefit and should be encouraged at every opportunity.

“The collaboration required to deliver this type of training is further demonstration of the commitment within the region, and internationally, to improve maritime SAR and help reduce maritime fatalities. This aligns with the humanitarian goal of the IMRF and its member organisations - reducing loss of life in the world’s waters, which is also the stated intent of the Secretary-General of the IMO,” Hamish concluded.