Port scene, dusk, with many wooden fishing boats, two men and a motorbike in foreground
Case study /
Representing Australia

Peter: international search and rescue

Image: 
Peter Welch
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA

Coordinating aviation and maritime search and rescue for an area equal to one 10th of the earth’s surface is all in a day’s work for Peter Welch, Senior Search and Rescue Officer at the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA).

Originally from Mackay, Queensland, Peter has been looking at Australian waters all of his working life. He started out as a shipping agent at the coal terminals in North Queensland, arranging for ships to get in and out of ports to assist the transport of Australia's cargo to and from the world.

In 2000, Peter and his young family needed a change. So Peter took up a position with AMSA in Canberra, monitoring shipping movements around Australia to make sure all ships were safe and accounted for. Peter was selected for specialised training to become a search and rescue officer and now works in the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week and responds to some 7,000 incidents a year.  

We can go to them for help, they can come to us for help, and we’re all speaking the same language and we know how we all operate.

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Peter Welch standing in front of technical equipment, including a screen with map of Australia to left

Peter Welch. Image credit: Catherine Gottlieb/DFAT

In 2016, Peter travelled to Colombo in Sri Lanka to teach a search and rescue course to officers from the Sri Lankan Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Civil Aviation Authority. The course was part of the Australian Government’s Search and Rescue Capability Partnership Program which aims to enhance the capability of the Maldives, Mauritius and Sri Lanka to provide effective search and rescue services. ‘In the Indian Ocean region, we're working to develop their search and rescue systems to meet their countries’ needs and international requirements’, he says.

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Peter Welch standing in front of a group of 16 men, mostly in uniforms, on the steps of a building

Peter with search and rescue course participants. Image credit: G.K. Pathinayake

Peter readily connected with his students. ‘I just went with the objective of not being in front of 19 students, but with 19 friends who do what I do.’ His love of cricket may have helped too, quickly connecting him to the cricket-mad Sri Lankan students. The Australian cricketing paraphernalia he’d cleverly taken with him also proved the perfect enticement for class quizzes. ‘They were all young men with families, and we'd talk not just search and rescue, but cricket. We developed a terrific rapport, and I learnt as much as they did about life and cricket and everything’, Peter says.

Developing personal relationships through the course provided additional benefits. Australia borders the search and rescue regions of 10 other countries, including Sri Lanka, and Peter recognises the importance of global collaboration and partnerships. ‘We all need to work together on cross-boundary incidents. We can go to them for help, they can come to us for help, and we're all speaking the same language and we know how we all operate.’

For Peter, the program also reaffirmed Australia’s standing in maritime and aviation safety and search and rescue, work that he still finds rewarding after all these years. ‘We save lives on a daily basis. We are directly responsible for coordinating rescues, so that’s pretty good.’