January 12, 2005

Maritime organizations coordinate tsunami response

At the invitation of IMO Secretary-General Efthimios Mitropoulos, officials from IMO, the International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities (IALA) and the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) met at IMO headquarters in London today to discuss their immediate responses to the south Asian tsunami disaster and to agree a joint plan for future actions as the crisis moves into the recovery and restoration phases.

The three organizations, along with the World Meteorological Organization which is also an integral part of the coordinated approach, are focusing on ensuring the integrity of the maritime navigational infrastructure; to ensure the safe navigation of ships, including those carrying urgently needed relief supplies.

Both IALA and IHO have already begun assessing in detail the extent of the damage to ports and their approaches, navigational channels and navigational aids in the affected areas.

Feedback from the affected countries is still far from complete. But early reports indicate that some damage has occurred and that cooperation between affected countries and relevant international Organizations to effect initial repairs is underway.

In Sri Lanka, for example, the loss of a hydrographic survey vessel fitted with sophisticated hydrographic equipment has been offset in the short term by the use of other survey vessels available in the area with similar capabilities.

Reports from India reveal that differential GPS ground stations have been put out of action, while in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands only around 40 percent of the navigational aids are reported as fully functional.

IMO says it stands ready to carry out needs' assessment missions to the affected areas and both IHO and IALA have agreed to send experts to participate jointly in such missions wherever appropriate. The three organizations also discussed plans to co-ordinate the offers of material assistance, such as the provision of workboats, buoys, channel markers and so on, that are already beginning to be made.

It was agreed at today's London meeting that the current system for promulgating maritime safety information via Navarea Coordinators should be reevaluated in the light of the tsunami disaster. A standardized format for tsunami warnings may have to be developed and adjustments made to the Navtex, SafetyNet and World-Wide Navigation System manuals. Amendments to the SOLAS Convention may also be proposed.

In terms of the contribution that the maritime community might make to the proposed tsunami early warning system for the Indian Ocean, the meeting agreed that the robust and well-proven satellite and radio-based communications infrastructure that IMO has established for the promulgation of maritime safety information to ships had the potential to play an important role.

IMO is to send a representative to the World Conference on Disaster Reduction, organized by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction in Kobe, Japan, January 18-22, to participate in discussions about how to move this important initiative forward.

The joint action plan adopted by the meeting has the following key elements:

Short term
Assess the extent of damage to navigational aids in the affected areas, in co-operation with national authorities *Assess and undertake preliminary re-survey for any reported changes in depths in the affected areas particularly ports, restricted navigational areas, the Malacca Strait and other areas as needed *Issue advice to shipping as appropriate, through existing networks

Medium/long term
Technical co-operation activities including needs' assessment missions; mobilizing and co-ordinating resources accordingly

*Assess and define new charting requirements

*Marking of new dangers, if necessary

*Assess the need to improve procedures for checking navigational aids and providing relevant warnings following natural disasters

*Participate in establishing an appropriate tsunami early warning system for the Indian Ocean, in co-operation with UNESCO/IOC and others

*Consider and incorporate consequential amendments to the organizations' basic documents as appropriate

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