Search Lessons Shared with China and New Zealand
24 November 2014
A 15-person Australian and New Zealand combined military and civilian delegation has participated in tri-lateral humanitarian and disaster relief (HA/DR) exercise, COOPERATION SPIRIT, in China over 18-22 November. The exercise offered the three countries the opportunity to build a better understanding of the multi-national response that each country is likely to bring to humanitarian and disaster relief and search and rescue operations.
Hosted by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) – Navy at their naval command college in Nanjing, approximately 50 participants exchanged lessons from the search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, the People's Republic of China's response to the 29 September 2013 'Typhoon Butterfly' and search and rescue operations conducted by the New Zealand Defence Force and Rescue Coordination Centre.
In opening the exercise, PLA Navy Senior Captain Lin Hua said "close military cooperation across the oceans" was as equally important for the Asia Pacific region as economic cooperation, trade and cultural understanding.
"Timely, professional delivery of aid [was a responsibility for] huge Asia Pacific navies [to] ensure Asia Pacific peace," Snr Capt Lin said.
He said the purpose of Exercise COOPERATION SPIRIT 2014 was to deepen understanding of the Chinese, New Zealand and Australian military and government capabilities in responding to humanitarian disasters involving maritime search and rescue (SAR).
"This exercise will lay a solid foundation for tri-country military aircraft and military ships involved in HA/DR in maritime Search and Rescue [and] will improve coordination and cooperation and build mutual confidence."
Head of the 10-person Australian delegation, Captain Michael Harris, RAN detailed the air and surface search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 that involved 19 aircraft and 16 ships from eight countries.
"It was the largest air search in the history of aviation."
"The search for MH370 was made difficult by the lack of a known crash site. Consequently, the search area changed a number of times while information about the aircraft's flight path became known."
"Search areas were defined by the best information available at that time."
Capt Harris said more than 400 items were found during the search effort however none could be confirmed to have come from the missing aircraft.
The PLA-Navy provided an overview of their response to Typhoon Butterfly, regarded as the most destructive storm in 35 years when it devastated remote Chinese islands on 29 September, 2013. The typhoon led to extensive air and surface search for more than 400 missing fishermen.
About 332 fishermen were rescued with several found after a week adrift at sea. Fourteen fishermen were confirmed killed while a further 48 were unaccounted for.
The New Zealand Defence Force presented lessons from maritime SAR conducted in their SAR Area of Operations, an area of six million nautical miles, the third largest search region in the world.
Royal New Zealand Air Force Squadron Leader Simon Eichelbaum said the NZ SAR region covered seven nations and borders with six others, requiring extensive coordination.
Exercise COOPERATION SPIRIT 14 was a trilateral exercise between China, New Zealand and Australia focused on national HA/DR response. The 2013 iteration of this exercise, then named PHOENIX SPIRIT, was hosted by New Zealand and included United States participation. Australia first conducted a practical bilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief activity with China in 2011.