STILL MISSING IN ACTION – UK MARITIME PATROL AIRCRAFT CAPABILITY
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
22 May 14. Ahead of a Sky News TV interview that I did yesterday lunchtime in regard to the renewed search for the four missing British yachtsmen in the mid-Atlantic someone who I won’t name said “I wonder how much news time has been devoted to maritime search and rescue effort during this year”? The inference behind the question was not only logical but is I believe well worthy of recording here. Without wishing to trivialise in any way had I been able to give a correct answer it would be that although we are only five months into the year the amount of media airtime devoted to loss of life of those that perished in aircraft or ships lost at sea has broken all records.
Due to one specific tragic incident it has been my lot over the past three days to both write and broadcast on the abandoned and now resumed search and rescue effort for the four lost sailors whose seemingly well-equipped vessel had departed Antigua last Thursday only to be lost somewhere in the mid-Atlantic Ocean.
I will not here and now repeat the views that I expressed on Tuesday in regard of the decision made by the US Coastguard to abandon the search and rescue effort and which, in this case and in the knowledge of the huge effort put in by them, I felt was both considered and correct. All credit to the US Coastguard for what they did and indeed, are now continuing to do in an attempt to find the four missing guys. Our thanks as well to the many other ships searching the area and to our Canadian allies as well for sharing the still ongoing search.
Resumption of the search for the missing yachtsmen was at the behest of the British Government. It is to the credit of the US Government and to the US Coastguard that even after the exhaustive effort put in during the initial search that the request to resume was quickly enacted without question. Just as the US and Canada also the UK is a signatory to the Chicago Convention of 1944 and also, with greater relevance to the aspects that concern us here, the subsequent 1979 agreement that is the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (the so called SAR Convention)’.
The latter agreement basically states that each party shall promote the establishment, operation and maintenance of an adequate and effective search and rescue capability within its area. In the case of the UK my understanding is that our search and rescue area at sea extends to approximately 30 degrees west covering an area of approximately one million square miles of Atlantic Ocean. According to information that I believe originates from the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency the UK’s requirement extends to an area just short of the Arctic Circle to the north and then follows a line down to an area just short of Cape Finisterre continuing down through the North Sea and English Channel meridian line. By any standards the UK has a large area of sea to cover in terms of its commitment although I suspect this is nowhere near as large as the area covered by a country such as New Zealand which I am reliably informed has the largest area of sea to cover.
The point that must always be remembered is that to undertake search and rescue capability requires that we should maintain at all times equipment, trained manpower and designed capability that should include sophisticated radar and other electronic equipment as well as the ability to drop additional safety equipment into the sea.
Initial search and rescue operation has traditionally and probably always will require the stand-up of air power as the first point of call. The USA, as I said my commentary piece two days ago, has considerable air power related search and rescue capability but sadly, since 2010 when the venerable fleet of Nimrod MRA2 aircraft was stood down and the present government decided to scrap the intended Nimrod MRA4 replaceme