Search and rescue experts are gathering in Noumea this week to improve cooperation and response strategies for saving lives at sea in the vast Pacific region.

Co-hosted by the Government of New Caledonia and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and in partnership with the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the workshop from 13–17 April aims to improve maritime preparedness, including focussing on more effective search and rescue legislation, planning and operation.

Pacific Island governments continue to be challenged by search and rescue cases, despite ongoing efforts to prevent them.

Between 2013 and early 2015, there were some 666 search and rescue cases reported in New Caledonia, while Papua New Guinea reported 598, the Solomon Islands indicated some 118 cases, Niue reported 13 and the Cook Islands reported three cases.

While most of the reported cases involved yachts and small boats, there are concerns that with an increasing number of merchant vessels, cruise ships and pleasure craft entering Pacific Islands’ waters, the demand for search and rescue services may also rise.

“The Pacific region faces specific challenges for maritime and aeronautical search and rescue because of its sheer size and the significant resources required,” the SPC Deputy Director-General, Operations and Management, Cameron Diver, said during his opening address.

“No single agency can effectively deliver search and rescue services. It requires many partners, agencies and volunteers to share a willingness to help and a cooperative spirit,” Mr Diver said.

The workshop has attracted more than 50 participants, including representatives of nine Pacific Island countries and territories and four Pacific Search and Rescue principals (Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand, New Caledonia Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre and the United States Coast Guard).

The programme involves sharing best practices, knowledge and exchanging lessons learned to enhance understanding of regional search and rescue issues, the magnitude of the search and rescue effort from preparedness and patrolling to mass rescue operations.

On Wednesday, the French Navy will stage a demonstration at sea for the participants.

Media contacts: Omirete Tabureka, Ship Safety Audit Adviser, EDD [email protected] or +679 3379 341

Caroline Tupoulahi-Fusimalohi, Research and Information Adviser, EDD, SPC, Suva, Fiji (Tel: +679 3379 281; email: [email protected]

Photo caption: Rescue operation on sailing boat by New Caledonia in 2015