Conference strengthens SAR in the Pacific

Safe Seas Clean Seas Issue 52, August 2017

More than 100 Pacific search and rescue experts from 26 countries met in Auckland in May for the 7th Pacific Search and Rescue Conference (PACSAR), with the aim to strengthen SAR across the region.
Conference strengthens SAR in the Pacific.
Pacific Search and Rescue conference organiser Kevin Banaghan, of the Rescue Coordination Centre of New Zealand (RCCNZ), with Solomon C Thompson – US Coast Guard; Rich Roberts – US Coast Guard; Brian Ruiterman – Royal New Zealand Airforce; Cameron Hitchings – Royal New Zealand Airforce; and Mike Hill – Manager of RCCNZ and Safety Services. The group were at Whenuapai Airport as part of a Pacific Search and Rescue Conference in Auckland recently.
Maritime New Zealand © 2019

A key reason for PACSAR is it provides SAR responders with face-to-face time, says Mike Hill, the manager of the Rescue Coordination Centre of New Zealand, which organised the conference as the current chair.

The Westpac Rescue Helicopter.
The Westpac Rescue Helicopter winches a ‘boatie’ to safety.
Maritime New Zealand © 2019

‘In their day-to-day work teams are often separated by thousands of kilometres and usually deal with each other over the phone or radio. The conference allowed delegates to share the work they’re doing – their best ideas and in particular what’s working for SAR prevention.”

Delegates were given a rare opportunity to watch a search and rescue demonstration on Auckland harbour involving a US Coast Guard C-130 Hercules dropping a life raft to two ‘stricken boaties’ who had set off flares. The Auckland Rescue Helicopter then dropped a swimmer and winched the boaties to safety.

Rescues often happen far out at sea,” Mike says. ‘Delegates were excited to see how they are performed in more detail. Plus, it was the first time a US Coast Guard aircraft had visited New Zealand in over 20 years. The Hercules crew, on their way home to Honolulu, even helped with a real-life rescue of six Tongan fishermen.”

Crew of C-130.
Crew of the US Coast Guard C-130 Hercules prepare to drop the life raft to the stricken boaties.
Maritime New Zealand © 2019

Mike says a major outcome from the conference is a plan to improve the collection of search and rescue data across the Pacific region, to be held in a central repository. The group is to also create an index of good SAR prevention practices that will be shared with PACSAR members.

Delegates returned home to promote the ‘Pacific Search and Rescue Strategic plan to 2021’ to their Governments, with the aim of full implementation by June 2018. Each nation is to also identify their additional SAR needs and feed that back to the PACSAR governing group.

Mike says RCCNZ’s other initiatives in the region include supporting capability development, with two Fijian Navy staff set to attend a 12-week RCCNZ search and rescue officer (SARO) training course this month in New Zealand.

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