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International Maritime Search and Rescue

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13.02.2015

International Search and Rescue

The 1979 International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) was aimed at developing an international SAR plan.

So that, no matter where an accident occurs, the rescue of persons in distress at sea will be co-ordinated by a SAR organization and, when necessary, by co-operation between neighbouring SAR organizations.

Although the obligation of ships to go to the assistance of vessels in distress was enshrined both in tradition and in international treaties (such as the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea - SOLAS), there was, until the adoption of the SAR Convention, no international system covering search and rescue operations. In some areas there was a well-established organization able to provide assistance promptly and efficiently, in others there was nothing at all.

Following the adoption of the 1979 SAR Convention, IMO's Maritime Safety Committee divided the world's oceans into 13 search and rescue areas, in each of which the countries concerned have delimited search and rescue regions for which they are responsible.

Parties to the Convention are required to ensure that arrangements are made for the provision of adequate SAR services in their coastal waters. Parties are encouraged to enter into SAR agreements with neighbouring States involving the establishment of SAR regions, the pooling of facilities, establishment of common procedures, training and liaison visits. The Convention states that Parties should take measures to expedite entry into its territorial waters of rescue units from other Parties.

The Convention then goes on to establish preparatory measures which should be taken, including the establishment of rescue co-ordination centres and sub centres. It outlines operating procedures to be followed in the event of emergencies or alerts and during SAR operations. This includes the designation of an on-scene commander and his duties.

Parties to the Convention are required to establish ship reporting systems, under which ships report their position to a coast radio station. This enables the interval between the loss of contact with a vessel and the initiation of search operations to be reduced. It also helps to permit the rapid determination of vessels which may be called upon to provide assistance including medical help when required.

Source: International Maritime Organization - 2015

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