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These were some of conclusions drawn from the International Maritime Rescue Federation's (IMRF) Asia Pacific Regional meeting in Hong Kong, where 17 Search and Rescue organisations (SARs) agreed the need for a plan to improve live saving across the area.

The meeting identified developing new trends such as an increasing number of Super cruise ships (3000-6000) per vessel, more ferry crossings - with a greater risk of collision - growing populations with more passengers and congested waterways used for multi-purpose transportation involving people and cargo.

Other worrying trends included the lack of maintenance of ferries in some states, a lack of local knowledge and a high reliance on electronics because seamanship skills had diminished.

Vulnerable groups were cited as pleasure craft and ferries, because of overloading and the potential for capsizing and small fishing vessels with a lack of communication and safety equipment. These weaknesses were increased because all craft were exposed to extreme weather conditions.

IMRF Chairman, Michael Vlasto said: "The IMRF can help in a number of ways, including cross agency and cross country research to establish areas of best practice and a common resource library to file that information. We can also act as a third party facilitator with Governments to assist services and actively promote and support SAR development."

He added: "Training is also an important dimension. We can facilitate this and build communications between SARs across the region to bring the sharing of ideas and initiatives."

Other challenges for the region included differing SAR structures between states, varying degrees of success in water safety awareness, the difficulties of getting external funding, variations in equipment and procedures and the danger of smaller vessels not being regulated or policed in small states.

"All of this points towards the need for a consistent approach and we welcome the support of the regional SAR organisations in this." said IMRF Chief Executive, Bruce Reid. "We need, for example, to train in SAR English to improve communications, agree a code of conduct for all states, standardise SAR equipment and increase passenger awareness.

"The issue of funding also needs to be addressed and we'll be looking for support from international groups to help fund regional initiatives."

The meeting took place at the end of last month and IMRF annual regional meetings are also held in Europe, Latin America, North West Africa and the Mediterranean.

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