Tripoli, 5 March 2014:
The Libyan Naval Coastguard’s Search and Rescue (SAR) skills have been boosted by training on modern computerised methods to find vessels stranded at sea.
The training, organised by the EU Border Assistance Mission to Libya (EUBAM Libya) focused, in particular, on mission coordination during SAR operations.
“Today’s exercise is about a search for a stranded fishing vessel. We know that the first search was not successful so we need to engage in a subsequent search”, EUBAM’s senior Naval Coastguard expert Emmanuel Mallia told the class. He added that two aircraft were also searching the boat.
The six senior Coastguard officers attending the training then had to engage in mathematical calculations on weather and sea conditions using highly-advanced software. This software is used in the US and several Mediterranean countries to help locate vessels lost at sea.
The Libyan officers had to put all available information into the computer to give the best chance of tracking down the boat. They knew the type of vessel – a fishing boat – and weather information for the 48 hours before the incident occurred. Based on this input, the computer then calculated average wind speeds and sea currents, with the results appearing on the screen as the officers typed.
“To do the same thing manually takes three hours of solid calculations, provided you are very good at maths,” Mallia said. He added that if any variables changed, the calculations would have to be done all over again.
“The software we are teaching our Libyan colleagues how to use allows them to make the best possible use of all the assets they have,” he said.
“This training has made us aware of the importance of coordination in SAR operations,” said 50 year-old Lieutenant Commander Enuri Tantush. He has been in the Naval coastguard for the last 10 years and before that he spent 20 years in the Navy.
“We frequently receive distress calls from illegal migrants and, in most cases, the search is difficult,” he said. “We lack telecommunications to lead operations and often we have to rely on fishing boats for help, but they are slow so we are sometimes too late.”
Tantush said that this meant the Coastguard sometimes found just dead bodies. “We often carry these onto dry land using our own personal things, handling bodies with our bare hands and possibly exposing ourselves to danger,” he added.
Tantush recalled one incident, in 2010, that haunts him to this day. “We received a distress call from a sinking boat with about 100 people on board and we managed to save 90 of them,” he said. “There was a woman who ripped her clothes to tie her two year-old child to her body but neither of them survived,” he said, adding that if the Coastguard had arrived on the scene earlier, the mother and child might had been saved.
The EUBAM course was based on international standards as defined in the International Aeronautical and Maritime SAR Manual of the International Maritime Organisation and International Civil Aviation Organisation.
This also defines how a SAR organisation should be structured, and outlines all the panning and execution processes of maritime SAR planning. Based on this, EUBAM has produced an advisory paper on the restructuring of the Libyan SAR organisation.
The EUBAM Libya mission started in May 2013, at the request of the Libyan government. The mission supports the Libyan authorities in developing border management and security at the country’s land, sea and air borders. [/restrict]