The Search and Rescue Aid Tool to save life and property at Sea


In Conversation with Dr. S C Shenoi, Head, Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS)

With 28 years of research experience ocean sciences, Dr. Shenoi has revolutionized India’s traditional views of ocean-atmosphere coupling, apart from making an enormous contribution towards the livelihood enhancement of fisherpeople by presenting to them information related to potential fishing zones, not to mention being the forerunner in the development of India’s first and only tsunami warning system. In a new feather to his cap, Dr Shenoi has recently introduced the SARAT on July 27, 2016.

In an exclusive interview, Dr. Shenoi talks about SARAT, a tool developed by INCOIS to help Indian Coast Guard, Navy and Coastal Security Police to assist them in their search and rescue operations. SARAT was much in focus during the 2014 Hudhud Cyclone, where it helped in rescuing the local populace out at sea.

G’nY: The tsunami warning system helps India and the South Asian rim region by preventing unnecessary evacuations. Apart from this does the warning system provide any other information that aids further research?

Dr. Shenoi: The Indian Tsunami Early Warning Centre, the best in the world is capable of issuing Tsunami bulletins in less than 10 minutes after any major earthquake in the Indian Ocean. INCOIS has established a network of co-located strong motion sensors and GNSS (GPS) receivers at 35 locations in Andaman & Nicobar Islands for quick estimation of seismic displacement and moment magnitude.

Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO) designated the Centre as Tsunami Service Provider (TSP) to provide tsunami early warnings and advisory services to the other countries on the Indian Ocean rim as well.

Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System (RIMES) framework is used to provide tsunami services for south China Sea.

INCOIS has also prepared multi-hazard vulnerability maps to identify the coastal areas under threat and reduce the disaster damage to critical infrastructure and economic loss.

Apart from this, INCOIS conducts regular training, workshop, COMMs test, mock drills, etc. to create tsunami awareness and preparedness. Around 40,000 people, participated and were evacuated from about 350 villages from 33 coastal districts of 8 states/UTs during the IOWave16 tsunami mock drill conducted between September 7-8, 2016, in India.

Studies on paleo-tsunami and seismo-tectonics in the Indian Ocean region have been carried out through various projects outsourced to research organisations and Universities. Preliminary study of cores indicated multiple tsunami events in the Andaman & Nicobar region.

In addition to tsunami early warnings, this Centre also provides storm surge early warnings to stakeholders. Such forecasts were operationalised during ‘Hudhud’ cyclone in October 2014.

G’nY: The new feather in the INCOIS cap is the search and rescue aid tool in the open seas. What is your experience of the efficacy of this new tool?

Dr. Shenoi: On July 27, 2016, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Hon’ble Minister of Science & Technology and Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) dedicated the Search and Rescue Aid Tool (SARAT) to the Nation during the XV National Maritime Search and Rescue (NMSAR) Board meeting.

Conducting search and rescue operations in the sea is an extremely challenging task and can be compared to the proverbial searching for a needle in the hay stack. This is more challenging in the Indian context, where the fishermen venture out into the sea without using modern technologies. Fisherman can go overboard, the boats may get capsized, and may drift with engine failure which may put their lives at greater risk. It is extremely important to trace the vessel quickly to save the life. Here SARAT can play a pivotal role.

G’nY:  How does the system work?

Dr. Shenoi: The SARAT system can find out the most probable search area for missing persons/objects at the sea. SARAT uses the forecasted currents and winds and estimates the probable location of man/object after certain time and ultimately narrows down on the most probable location based on statistical estimation.

Any object missing at sea will be driven with the force of ocean currents and winds. The forecasted currents and winds are used to determine the forces acting on the object. The nature of object is taken in account while calculating the force on the object. Once the position of the lost object is known, a million similar particles are released in the model calculation to find out about their movement over a certain period of time.

SARAT system is mainly constituted to help the Indian Coast Guard, Navy and Coastal Security Police to guide them in their search operations by minimizing the search location as much as possible. The person using the system will be able to select 60 types of missing objects such as person in water, life raft, fishing boat, aviation, surf boat, sail boat etc. They can also select a specific location where the object was lost using an interactive map or they can select a coastal location, distance travelled and bearing angle to estimate the missing location. The results generated are displayed in an interactive map depicting the probable area to be searched. All the requests and responses are provided in local languages of all coastal states so that fisherman can also use it to search for their fellow fisherman/boat in distress.

As of now SARAT has about 2.42 lakh direct users and about 4.3 lakh estimated indirect users. The number of users have grown over a period of time as show in the figure below (Figure 1&2).

Figure 1: Growing number of direct SARAT users.


Figure 2: Mediums through which people who Potentially used the Fishing zone advisories

Figure 2

Drifting buoys and other objects are deployed at the sea to assess the accuracy of SARAT. It was found that SARAT has a reasonable operational accuracy.

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