Deputy Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga: Search and Rescue High Level Conference

Keynote address delivered by Honourable Sindisiwe Chikunga, MP and the Deputy Minister of Transport at the occasion of the Search and Rescue High Level Conference

Theme: The roles and responsibilities of the South African aviation and maritime search and rescue

Programme Director: Mr Dumsani Ntuli;

The Minister of Transport: Mr Fikile Mbalula, MP in his absentia;

MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison, Mr Sipho Hlomuka;

The Executive Mayor of eThekwini;

Members of the SASAR Executive Committee;

Director-General of Department of Transport: Adv James Mlawu;

Deputy Director General (DoT) Civil Aviation: Mr Zakhele Thwala;

Deputy Director General (DoT) Maritime: Mr Mthunzi Madiya;

Directors-General from our sister Departments;

The CEO’s from the entities and Private Sector;

Government Officials present;

Search and Rescue Voluntary Organisations;

Distinguished Guest Speakers;

Distinguished Delegates;

Members of the Media;

Ladies and Gentlemen


I wish to take this moment to thank the hosts and organisers for the invitation they have extended to my office to participate in this solutions-oriented National High-Level Search and Rescue Conference.It is indeed a great honour.

The ability to converge for this conference is a clear reflection that we have taken great strides to leave the COVID-19 pandemic behind us and to get on with the life of building a sustainable and inclusive economy and contributing to the development of society. This is in no way implying that we abandon caution against the lingering risks posed by the pandemic.

COVID-19 pandemic and climate change a wake-up call to build back better

Ladies and gentlemen;

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted several key vulnerabilities of our societies and economic system. Global interconnectedness has helped to create huge economic and social benefits for decades, albeit unequally, but also facilitated the rapid spread of the pandemic.

More broadly, the speed and depth of the economic crisis have shown that a core principle of the global economy – prioritising short-term economic growth and efficiency over long-term resilience – can have huge societal costs.

The precariousness of long and complex global value chains has been revealed, with many countries struggling to acquire medical and other strategic supplies. Social inequalities have been exposed and rapidly exacerbated by the massive but uneven loss of employment, with the equivalent of more than 300 million jobs potentially at risk. Although this is not the first economic crisis to expose these frailties, the depth and breadth of the current circumstances have brought the issue of resilience and preparedness high in the public consciousness.

It has also brought to the fore the institutional, environmental, systems and process limitations in our global, continental, regional and national Disaster Management capacity and capabilities which include Search and Rescue.

Programme Director;

The world of search and rescue has changed drastically. As population growth has accelerated and cities have expanded. And, this have presented a unique challenge, demanding both a highly specialized, yet multidisciplinary approach in dealing with Search and Rescue operations.

Previous deployment of Search and Rescue teams were confined to natural land disasters such as earthquakes and landslides, now, they have grown to encompass extreme weather like tornadoes, hurricanes, cyclones and more recently, terrorist attacks.

The world’s environmental emergencies are as pressing as ever, the impacts of climate change, seen through extreme weather events air pollution, biodiversity loss and poor ocean health, rising sea levels already cause immense suffering globally and harbour further systemic vulnerabilities for the global economy that could ultimately eclipse the current crisis.

The fact is that dangerous effects of climate change will continue to have extreme impacts on all people, but especially women and marginalized groups – including indigenous peoples, people living in poverty and persons with disabilities.

In its sixth assessment report, published in August, 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that even under the most optimistic of scenarios, the world is likely to breach the 1.5°C increase in global temperatures within 20 years. Noting that evidence of human responsibility for warming was now “unequivocal,” the report predicted more frequent and severe flooding across Africa and Asia, and more intense heat waves across the world.

Flood disasters experienced in parts of South Africa and state of readiness of SAR in future occurrences

Ladies and gentlemen;

To bring reality home, last year, parts of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and North West were struck by catastrophic flooding that caused extensive losses of life, the destruction of homes and damage to infrastructure. Recent, we have been notified about cyclone Freddy.

All these cases highlight the need to move with speed in improving Search and Rescue (SAR) Initiatives within the country, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African continent and the world as a whole.

I am thus glad that we are holding this very urgent and important National High-Level Search and Rescue Conference to deliberate on how do we improve efficiencies in strategic leadership, planning, management, training and implementation of a more purpose relevant multi-disciplinary approach to Search & Rescue operations.

The recovery and reconstruction plan post COVID-19 pandemic

Programme Director;

The return to normality or improvements beyond the pre-COVID growth has been accompanied by accelerated efforts to grow our different sectors and industries, and therefore returning to the hives of activity we once knew.

Returning to these activities and growing trade and travel volumes will certainly need that all our systems are up to the task and so it goes for search and rescue systems, which must be ready for most eventualities. And, many governments have recognised the need and opportunity for an environmentally sustainable and inclusive recovery.

Programme Director;

One of the most affected among our transport sectors has off-course been the civil aviation industries, air traffic navigation, passenger transport including airport services amongst those most affected due to their reliance on passenger numbers or flights.

In a parliamentary Question and Answer session in the National Assembly on the 3rd of November 2022; President Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged the need for the recovery of civil aviation sector.

He mentioned that the impact of travel restrictions and lockdown measures in nearly every region of the world has led to a significant drop in airline activities and revenues.

Among solutions, the President recognised not only the need for innovation, but equally for the sector to find relevance within the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement.

The African continental free trade agreement

Distinguished Delegate;

As the industry recovers, the African Continental Free Trade Area presents opportunities for access to new markets in Africa for goods and services that originate from South Africa. Much of this increased commerce between African countries will depend on air travel, the President had said.

We have thus also been working hard to reopen our country’s ports to the craved trade and tourism and pushing to return our civil air transport services especially catering for long haul travel to return to pre-COVID-19 levels, while we seek avenues for diversification of our air transport service offerings to cater for shocks.

As regards transport infrastructure many of us will be aware of ongoing recovery and restoration work by the Department of Transport and its entities in collaboration with our sister Departments in our joint efforts to recover lost or restore damaged transport infrastructure.

We are also still keenly aware of the lurking risks of a similar nature as rains continue to fall at above seasonal levels in parts of the country spelling hazard and nudging us to strengthen our disaster management systems and personnel preparedness.

We are compelled by the picture painted by current studies of these risks to ensure our multi-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder preparedness. This preparedness must involve a deliberate process of building required capacity and ascertaining that such capacity and the actions it is geared to respond to global, regional and or domestic obligations we are bound too.

It is known to us all that, as a sector, we have persistently built institutional capacity towards safety and security of the transport environment, while fully committing to international instruments and conventions to save lives and protect the environment. It is a fact that we experience often unnecessary losses of life due to inadequate safety systems in general and search and rescue infrastructure in particular.

I am pleased to note that the invitations sent towards participation at this conference mention a largely differentiated set of players in the field of search and rescue, which raises confidence that we are in good hands as led by the South African Search and Rescue Organisation.

We equally feel great encouragement and hope based on the participation of voluntary and non-governmental organisations and their highly valued contributions to the task of improving South Africa’s search and rescue capacity.

This function of search and rescue has in large measure been enabled strongly by voluntary organisations amongst which most individuals or groups have remained unsung heroes.

It is clear that government cannot do it alone and our aims are achievable only through collaborative work and the building of sustainable partnerships in carrying out such a noble task. Coordination towards a concerted effort to improve search and rescue capacities must be founded on specific and strong institutional capacity, fed through a sustainable funding model, driven by capable personnel and backed by relevant collaborative support among all stakeholders.

Legal basis and mandate for the existence of search and rescue institutions/s

Programme Director;

The South African Search and Rescue Organisation is a statutory organ established in terms of the South African Maritime and Aeronautical Search and Rescue Act 2002 (Act 44 of 2002). Its mandate is to ensure a co-ordinated and effective maritime and aeronautical search and rescue service within the South African search and rescue regions.

Maritime transport perspective

Esteemed delegates;

From a maritime transport point of view, we are aware that policy provisions contained in the Comprehensive Transport Policy, CMTP 20, which relate to search and rescue are not being championed by anyone except the ongoing routine work that’s being carried out most of which predates the CMTP.

This challenge points to the lack of continuous awareness raising and guidance to implementation of the policy. The mandate of the policy division must be extended to guide and champion its implementation across the board if we are to stay on course to IMC by 2030. With the increase in the economic activity we yearn for as a nation, we also have played a major part in ensuring that this unfolds in a safe and secure environment, on the ground, in the air and on the waters’ we govern.

Transformation, skills development and training in the department of transport and strategic partners in advancing search and rescue efforts

Ladies and gentlemen;

As the Department of Transport, we entered into a Memorandum of Cooperation with the Transport Education and Training Authority and SA Sailing to unlock the policy pronouncements relating to the development of the boat building sector and promotion of sailing in other parts of the country.

On the other hand, and as regards our commitment to promote sailing, in 2019 we entered into a Memorandum of Cooperation with the Royal Cape Yatch Academy. The timing of that MOU was in anticipation of the 2021 CMTP Decade Theme: South Africa a Boating and Sailing Nation.

The highlight of that year was the birth of a tripartite Memorandum of Cooperation between DoT/ TETA/ SA Sailing. The MOU itself is ground-breaking, considering what will be achieved in growing the sailing and boating sector to the rest of the country.

The development work undertaken by the Yatch Clubs in the country is a life changing and nation building one requiring all of our support and encouragement.

A notable achievement

Ladies and gentlemen;

It seems to day is indeed a day of good news all around us. We have, with the greatest pleasure learned from the South African Maritime Authority’s (SAMSA’s) 10th Province Blog dated 20th February 2023 of yet a great achievement in search and rescue.

The Blog announced that:

[The] South Africa’s Maritime Rescue Coordinating Centre (MRCC) is among the recipients of this year’s Seamanship Award by London based Ocean Cruising Club (OCC).

This, Blog continues, this is “in recognition of their role in the rescue of a Finnish solo sailor after he abandoned his sailing boat that sank about 500 miles south of the South African coast four months ago.

According to the OCC in an announcement, the Cape Town based MRCC, managed under the Centre for Sea Watch & Response of the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), will receive the award jointly with Capt. Naveen Kumar Mehrotra and the crew of the DARYA GAYATRI”.

This includes Kirsten Neuschäfer who at the time was a competitor in the 2022 Golden Globe Race”, the Blog had reported further.

Aviation and maritime incidents and accidents and the important of search and rescue domestic and international legal instruments

Programme Director;

Aviation and Maritime incidents and accidents can result in heavy and irrecoverable human, environmental and property losses and therefore capable of major disruptions, which requires both vigilance and adequate and appropriate resources against impacts. As a member of ICAO and the IMO as well as party to the relevant International Conventions, South Africa recognises the great importance of saving lives and the need to be directly involved in rendering aeronautical and maritime search and rescue service to persons in distress.

The most notable conventions remain the following: the International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea of 1974; the Convention on High Seas of 1958; the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue of 1979; and Annex 12 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation.

We are further obliged by agreements with our neighbouring states to ensure that arrangements are made for the provision of adequate services to ensure safety in aviation and maritime transport in our area of responsibility.

Under these conventions, Contracting States such as South Africa are obliged to establish and provide search and rescue services within their territories and within areas over the high seas.

Together with other regional states we must pool our resources, establish common procedures, training and liaison visits. The Conventions propose the establishment preparatory measures which should be taken, including the establishment of rescue co-ordination centres and sub-centres.

It also outlines operating procedures to be followed in the event of emergencies or alerts and during SAR operations. We pride ourselves that we have our Regional MRCC, and that we are benchmarking with other States with a view to establish our own JRCC.

The JRCC is globally recognised as the best practice in the provision of aviation and maritime SAR services as it affords for a close cooperation of effort between aviation and maritime resources. Interoperability and compatibility of procedures remains critically important while cross utilisation of assets is vital when lives are endangered and time is of the essence.

The search and rescue policy of all ICAO and IMO Member States is informed by the guidelines contained in the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue Manual developed jointly between the aviation and maritime SAR Authorities and experts. These manuals guide the States in meeting their own search and rescue needs and outlines the obligations they accepted under the Convention on International Civil Aviation, the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, including their obligations to the SOLAS Convention.

The Manual provides guidelines for an aviation and maritime approach to organizing and providing SAR services. States are therefore encouraged to develop and improve their SAR services, co-operate with neighbouring States and to consider their SAR services to be part of a global system.

South Africa’s national manual, namely the SAR National Plan, was signed in 2013 with a characteristic of a constantly revolving plan developed in accordance with the IAMSAR Manual and based on the unique environment we find ourselves in. South Africa has over the years, developed her own national SAR system that is being integrated with other countries' SAR system through bilateral agreements.

From point of view of the legislative framework, the South African Maritime and Aeronautical Search and Rescue Act 2002 (Act 44 of 2002) is currently under review and a new Bill has been submitted aimed at updating and better defining the SAR in terms of aviation and maritime transport within South Africa.

South Africa also acknowledges that SAR is humanitarian in nature and accepts its moral obligation to assist craft and persons in distress in terms of established international practice founded in international law.

We know and understand the mandate of the Country, now we need to put our heads together through inter-governmental cooperation, on how can we better on our responsibility and commitment towards search and rescue. There are 4 working groups that will be looking at different topics Lets use all our resources to assist each other to carry our mandate and our flag high. In our robust discussions, we need to look at the funding mechanism, communication infrastructure, optimal use of SAR resources, training, the use of more improved technologies and innovative solutions and all other related matters so we can set our path clearly and decisively.

We have a lot of work ahead of us and I am really humbled to know that in South Africa, there is several private and voluntary organisations amongst us today, that dedicate their time and resources to this noble cause of search and rescue. We appreciate your bravery and selflessness.


Ladies and gentlemen;

Let me conclude by expression special gratitude to HAMNET, NSRI, Mountain Club of South Africa, SARZA, K9SARA and all other volunteer organisations who strive to ensure that SAR services are supported and operations conducted all with the aim of ensuring safety of life.

Let me also mention that tonight, we are going to host the SASAR meritorious awards, to honour the brave men and women in search and rescue and we wish that you will all join us to share the special moments with them.

Coming from the IMO Website it is important to note the call for submissions towards nominations for exceptional acts of bravery performed at sea during the period 1 March 2022 to 28 February 2023.

The advertisement states that nominations may also involve displays of extraordinary seamanship skills in very difficult conditions or any other acts of outstanding courage at sea.

The nomination form can be submitted by any IMO Member State, intergovernmental organization. This is in cooperation with IMO and non-governmental organization in consultative status with IMO. Submissions are open until 17 April 2023.

We hope that many of you will be put forward and your names submitted by government for some of the exceptional work you do to save lives.

Ladies and Gentlemen, distinguished delegates, I declare this conference open and wish you all successful deliberations during this conference.

Let us continue to "join hands so others may live”

I thank you.

Source: Government of South Africa