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Liberia Regional Search And Rescue Centre Opens

by Lorys Charalambous,, Cyprus

06 May 2009

A vital part of the plan to provide effective search and rescue (SAR) coverage off the coast of Africa has been completed with the commissioning on April 23, 2009, of a fully-equipped regional Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) in Monrovia, Liberia.

This marks the fourth such commissioning in the past three years, following the inauguration of MRCCs in Mombasa, Kenya (May 2006), Cape Town, South Africa (January 2007) and Lagos, Nigeria (May 2008).

The Monrovia MRCC covers five countries - Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Its commissioning followed the formal signing, in November 2007, of a Multilateral Agreement between the governments of those countries, on the coordination of maritime SAR services in areas adjacent to their coasts.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), for its part, acted as project leader, collaborating with all parties concerned; coordinating the provision of expert advice, training and infrastructure; and monitoring and supervising progress at the various phases.

The inauguration of the new facility marks an important step in a process that began at the October 2000 IMO Conference on Search and Rescue and the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System, held in Florence, Italy. Governments at that Conference agreed that a regional approach to the provision of SAR services in western, southern and eastern parts of Africa should be pursued and, to that effect, they adopted a resolution inviting the African countries bordering the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, anti-clockwise from Morocco to Somalia, as well as the nearby Atlantic and Indian Ocean Island States, to establish five regional centres and 26 sub-centres to cover their entire coastline areas for SAR coordination purposes.

The Conference envisaged that all the proposed centres could work co-operatively to provide SAR coverage in what had been identified as one of the areas of the world suffering most from a lack of adequate SAR and communications infrastructure.

The establishment of appropriate SAR facilities off the coast of Africa was seen as a key component in the implementation of the Global SAR Plan, the final part of which had been agreed in 1998 at an IMO Conference in Fremantle, Australia and, within which, Liberia had formally agreed to undertake responsibility for the coordination and control of SAR operations across a substantial sea area exceeding her obligation under the SOLAS Convention to do so in areas around her coast.

The inauguration of the facility in Monrovia will help to fill a sizeable gap in the effective coverage of a vast area of the eastern part of the Atlantic Ocean, an area through which many ships, of all nations, regularly ply their trade.

The new Monrovia MRCC was commissioned on April 23, 2009, by the IMO's Secretary-General Efthimios E. Mitropoulos, accompanied by B. J. Samukai, Liberia's Minister of Defence; A. B. Johnson, Minister of Internal Affairs; Binyah Kesselly, Commissioner Of Maritime Affairs; Mr. George Arku, Permanent Representative of Liberia to IMO, as well as officials from Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Speaking at the opening of the facility, Mr Mitropoulos paid tribute to the broad co-operation between IMO, stakeholders from the international and non-governmental sectors and, most of all, the host government of Liberia, that enabled this part of the overall scheme to be brought to a successful conclusion.

He went on to commend the Government of Liberia for its ratification, earlier this year, of the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue - the SAR Convention - by which it further confirmed its strong commitment to search and rescue and to the safety of life at sea.

"This," he said, "surely befits a country that not only has taken on a sizeable SAR responsibility in geographical terms, but which is also in charge of one of the world's largest shipping registries - a role it plays with a commendable sense of responsibility and commitment with satisfactory results indeed."

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