All vessels face an imperative to rescue distressed people at sea, setting aside political and commercial considerations, says the International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF).
IMRF cites recent reports of would-be rescuers deterred from helping people in distress by concerns about territorial waters. CEO Bruce Reid said, “Great work is being done by professional rescue crews from all over Europe, coordinated by our friends in the Italian and Hellenic Coast Guards, with the assistance too of Search and Rescue (SAR) colleagues in Malta and Turkey.
“But we are concerned by reports of less well-prepared responses at sea, by people whose good intentions are undoubted but who may not fully understand the procedures internationally agreed for maritime SAR – procedures which make a well-tried system work efficiently, to save more lives.”
The imperative to rescue people in distress at sea – where there is “a reasonable certainty that [they are] threatened by grave and imminent danger”, according to the SAR Convention – applies whether in territorial or international waters and regardless of the legal status of the people in distress or the circumstances in which they are found, says Reid. All vessels at sea except warships are obliged to rescue people in distress.
“It’s important to emphasise that we are talking about people who will die if not rescued,” said Reid. “This is different to highly important but less immediately urgent humanitarian responses, where lives are not imminently at risk.
“And it’s different to border control issues, too. SAR takes place within that broader context, of course – and the IMRF understands that the overall situation is complex.
“But SAR is simple in principle and its procedures are established in international law,” Reid added. “If people are in distress at sea they must be rescued if possible, and ‘rescue’ includes being brought to a place of safety. The IMRF urges all concerned to find solutions to the wider issues, and to enable the maritime SAR services to do their lifesaving work.”
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