The Department of Transport (the Department) briefed and engaged the Committee on features of South African Search and Rescue Organisation operations, as they related to the South African Maritime and Aeronautical and Rescue Amendment Bill [B28-2012]. It was explained that this Bill was largely technical in nature, and that it was not seeking to set any new policy, but merely to update and give better empowerment to the existing SASAR. New definitions were inserted, the membership of SASAR was expanded, and its ability was being expanded to allow it to perform functions also outside South Africa, in accordance with the international conventions. Provisions were included allowing SASAR to determine the procedure for meetings, obsolete provisions were being deleted, and the Bill was reorganising processes, roles and responsibilities during the execution of maritime and aeronautical rescue operations, to aid improved response mechanisms and turnaround time. The Minister of Transport would have the power to delegate certain powers and duties and the scope of regulations for search and rescue was also widened. It was noted that the South African Search and Rescue Organisation (SASAR) was a statutory body established under the South African Maritime and Aeronautical Search and Rescue Act, Act 44 of 2002 (the Act), with the mandate of ensuring the coordination of maritime and aeronautical search and rescue operations in South African search and rescue regions. It comprised representatives from government departments, agencies, business and voluntary organisations capable of availing resources for use for search and rescue purposes. It was empowered to offer assistance, and to effect rescue operations in respect of aeronautical and maritime accidents or incidents. There were no major policy changes and the Bill was essentially updating and correcting the previous legislation, and expanding the platform for empowering participation by any other organisation capable of offering assistance. Public submissions had been sought in the drafting phase, and suggestions made were incorporated into the Bill.
Members were deeply dissatisfied, and criticised the Department for not providing the Committee Members with comments of the written submissions on the Bill, as well as more detail on what had been discussed with the National Assembly Committee, and stressed that this Committee expected to be fully informed as it was not merely rubber-stamping. The Department responded that it had not expected to be asked for submissions from consultative meetings, but would endeavour to summarise the content of discussions and provide copies of the submissions. Members asked if this Bill would affect security operations, security at sea, piracy, terrorism and poaching, and the Department responded by explaining that SASAR was concerned with co-ordinating successful maritime and aeronautical search and rescue services only, and not with security, which was covered under other legislation. The Chief of Operations of the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) was expected to expand on this during the next meeting.
South African Maritime and Aeronautical Search and Rescue Amendment Bill, [B28-2012]: Department of Transport briefing
Mr Adam Masombuka, Chief Director: Legislation, Department of Transport, outlined the provisions of the South African Maritime and Aeronautical Search and Rescue Amendment Bill (the Bill).
He noted that the South African Search and Rescue Organisation (SASAR) was a statutory body established under the South African Maritime and Aeronautical Search and Rescue Act, Act 44 of 2002 (the Act), with the mandate of ensuring the coordination of maritime and aeronautical search and rescue operations in South African search and rescue regions.
SASAR comprised of representatives from government departments, agencies, business and voluntary organisations capable of availing resources for use for search and rescue purposes.
SASAR’s responsibility lay in offering assistance and, where appropriate, effecting a rescue operation to survivors of aeronautical and maritime accidents or incidents. This included evacuation of seriously injured or ill persons from vessels at sea, where the person’s condition was such that he or she ought to receive medical treatment immediately. The Act provided a necessary legal framework for the establishment of a search and rescue service in South Africa. The Act also incorporated the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, 1979, and Annex 12 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, 1944.
He said the Bill aimed to reorganise processes, roles and responsibilities, as prescribed, during the execution of maritime and aeronautical rescue operations. This meant improved response mechanisms and turnaround time. It also gave the right for delegation of powers and duties bestowed on the Minister of Transport to the South African Maritime and Aeronautical Search and Rescue office-bearers and Department of Transport officials. The Bill further widened the scope under which the Minister could regulate search and rescue.
The objects of the Bill were read out, as follows:
- to amend the SA Maritime and Aeronautical Search and Rescue Act, 2002
- to insert certain definitions and to amend others to expand membership of SASAR to perform its function in accordance with the international conventions
- to empower SASAR to determine procedures to be followed when conducting meetings of SASAR
- to provide for SASAR to perform its functions outside the Republic’s search and rescue regions in accordance with the Conventions
- to reword certain sections of the Act, to realign the sections of the Act and to delete obsolete provisions
- to spell out the objectives of the aeronautical and maritime rescue co-ordination function.
Mr Masombuka noted that there were no major policy changes to the principal Act, because the Bill essentially aimed to bring the Act in line with the current practices and international obligations. The initial legislation had been poorly drafted but the errors had been corrected.
He said membership to SASAR was free, voluntary and depended on an organisation’s ability and readiness to contribute its resources for use by SASAR. A provision for inclusion of other organisations was made in the Bill, and the scope of membership of the SASAR was being expanded, so that members could apply to be joined if they had resources to offer. The Bill therefore was expanding the platform for empowering such commercial participation. The Bill aimed at improving on the principal Act, but he reiterated that it was not making any major policy changes.
Mr Masombuka explained that, prior to publication, of the Bill there were submissions made to the Department of Transport (DOT or the Department) by various organisations including Air Traffic and Navigation services (ATNS) and South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA). The comments were incorporated in the Bill. The Bill was presented to Cabinet and the National Assembly had approved it.
Mr H Groenewald (DA; North West) said he saw no problems with the Bill. However, he expressed concern about, and sought clarification on protection of South African territorial borders, saying that fundamental extremists came through there when they escaped from countries such as Ethiopia. He asked whether this was the appropriate Bill to address security considerations.
Mr M Jacobs (ANC; Free State) appreciated the brief presentation, and agreed that there was nothing significant about the changes. He asked if it was the duty of the Committee to examine each clause of the Bill and asked if there were changes prompted by the National Assembly.
A DA member asked whether the Committee could read the comments made by organisations on the Bill, saying that he would be reluctant to adopt the Bill without knowing what had been said about it from those in the sector. He emphasised that Members wanted to investigate all relevant matters prior to debate.
Ms P Themba (ANC; Mpumulanga) agreed and asked if the documents outlining the public comments could be made available to Members. She noted with concern that the Committee was essentially being asked to “rubber-stamp” the Bill without having all the necessary information, and she would not do so.
The Chairperson noted that SASAR rendered assistance of aircraft and ships in distress within a search and rescue region which included the territory of other member states. He asked about the role the other 12 member states played. He also asked whether the Bill supported South Africa in its anti-poaching efforts. Furthermore, he asked if South Africa was well covered insofar as security at sea was concerned.
Mr Masombuka responded that this particular Bill addressed search and rescue of people who found themselves in distress. For purposes of any aeronautical or maritime search and rescue operation, SASAR may seek assistance from military aircraft or vessels. Moreover, where required, various ad hoc search and rescue services were provided to emergency and rescue service bodies. There was other legislation that dealt with maritime security, including poaching and piracy and this was not the function of this particular Bill.
He added that when the Bill was presented to the National Assembly, no amendments were made by the Portfolio Committee, and there was no further input on it.
Mr Masombuka noted that the concerns on the public responses, and said that in future the Department would make available a table that would set out all responses made by organisations.
He then went into more detail on the Bill and on search and rescue operations. The International Convention of 1979 on Maritime Search and Rescue, and Annex 12 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, 1944; (the Chicago Convention) addressed the responses necessary for search and rescue. A search would start after notification for vessels was given. The vessel in distress would be rescued, after which the vessels and victims were taken to a place of safety. The search and rescue operation was then deemed to cease. He noted the distinction between search and rescue, and poaching or security. Generally, SASAR ensured a co-ordinated and effective maritime and aeronautical search and rescue service, within the South African search and rescue regions.
Mr Masombuka then briefly described the comment given by the ATNS, who had suggested that the Bill should also make provision for electronic notification, in addition to written notifications.
Other comments from other organisations recommended grammatical and spelling amendments, and there was a request to correct the portion of the Bill and include reference to the requirement that flights engaging in search rescue operations should file flight plans.
Mr Masombuka said when the Department of Transport had consultations on the Bill, these comments were used as the basis of interaction with the Committee. The Committee also had available its own internal consultation procedure for engaging with the DOT. He noted that the submissions from the consultative meetings with the Portfolio Committee had not been provided, because he did not foresee that this would be required. He said, however, that the Department was willing to share such information if sufficient notice was given.
The Department had expected the Chief of Operations of the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) to accompany the delegation t this meeting, and said that if she had been in attendance, she could have expanded upon aspects of the MRCC operations and given further clarification to the Committee. She would attend the next meeting.
The Chairperson asked the Department to share the submissions prior to the next meeting with the Committee. He reiterated that Members of this Committee attended to their work with enthusiasm, seriousness and conviction, and they wanted to be apprised of all necessary information. Those submissions would receive priority deliberation during the next meeting.
The meeting was adjourned.
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