Tuesday 14 June 2011, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Suva, Fiji - Last week Australia hosted a search and rescue workshop in Cairns, a regional cooperation initiative that is designed to improve search and rescue capability in the Pacific region.

The meeting was jointly organised by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) in alignment with the objectives of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). IMO funded the participants from Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs).

In his opening address, AMSA Chief Executive OfficerGraham Peachey described the search and rescue (SAR) situation in the region.

'The Pacific region is one that presents unique challenges, with a high volume of maritime traffic in a vast and sparsely populated environment. We are no strangers to stories of distress at sea in this area,' Mr Peachey said.

He highlighted the incident in Kiribati where a family of four were lost at sea last year and were rescued in a multi-national operation. This demonstrated the essential nature of establishing international links to assist those in distress.

Pacific Island governments continue to be challenged by search and rescue cases, despite ongoing efforts to prevent them. Saving lives at sea can be a costly mission for SAR authorities, especially those in PICTs.

With the increase in the number of cruise ship visits to the region over the years, SAR authorities now have to be prepared for potential mass rescue operations (MROs) that may exceed their resource capacity.

Bruce Tweed, Ship Safety and Audit Adviser at SPC's Economic Development Division, emphasised the importance of search and rescue preparedness and training in the region.

'Education, training and preparation are the best means to reduce injury, loss of life, damage to the environment, and the economic impacts of maritime and aviation emergencies. It is with these goals in mind that we move forward,' he added.

A highlight of the workshop was the live search and rescue demonstration that took place on Thursday near Mission Bay, involving local Australian Volunteer Coast Guard units, AMSA's Cairns-based dedicated search and rescue Dornier aircraft and other local Cairns response units.

This is the fourth search and rescue workshop that SPC has organised in partnership with IMO, AMSA, the United States Coast Guard, and Maritime New Zealand.