Search and rescue (SAR) is the search for and provision of aid to people who are in distress or imminent danger. The general field of search and rescue includes many specialty sub-fields, typically determined by the type of terrain the search is conducted over. These include mountain rescue; ground search and rescue, including the use ofsearch and rescue dogs; urban search and rescue in cities; combat search and rescue on the battlefield and air-sea rescue over water.
These services are performed through a cooperative effort involving government agencies, voluntary organizations and private enterprises.
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.
International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR)
The technical requirements of the SAR Convention are contained in an Annex, divided into five Chapters. Parties to the Convention are required to ensure that arrangements are made for the provision of SAR services in their coastal waters.
Chapter 1 in the Annex includes Terms and Definitions
Chapter 2 – Organization and Co-ordination
This Chapter makes clear the responsibilities of Governments. It requires Parties, either individually or in co-operation with other States, to establish basic elements of a search and rescue service, including:
– legal framework;
– assignment of a responsible authority;
– organization of available resources;
– communication facilities;
– co-ordination and operational functions; and
– processes to improve the service including planning, domestic and international co-operative relationships and training.
Parties should establish search and rescue regions within each sea area, with an agreement of the Parties involved. Parties then accept responsibility for providing search and rescue services for a specified area.
The Chapter describes how SAR services should be arranged and national capabilities developed. Parties are required to establish rescue co-ordination centres, operate them on a 24/7 basis with trained staff who have a working knowledge of English.
Parties are required to “ensure the closest practicable co-ordination between maritime and aeronautical services”.
Chapter 3 – Co-operation between States
Requires Parties to co-ordinate search and rescue organizations, and, where necessary, search and rescue operations with neighbouring States. The Chapter states that unless otherwise agreed between the States concerned, a Party should authorize entry into or over its territorial sea or territory for rescue units of other Parties solely for the purpose of search and rescue.
Chapter 4 – Operating Procedures
This Chapter says that each RCC (Rescue Co-ordination Centre) and RSC (Rescue Sub-Centre) should have up-to-date information on search and rescue facilities and communications in the area and should have detailed plans for conduct of search and rescue operations. Parties – individually or in co-operation with others should be capable of receiving distress alerts on a 24-hourly basis. The regulations include procedures to be followed during an emergency. Search and rescue activities should be co-ordinated on scene for the most effective results. The Chapter says that “Search and rescue operations shall continue, when practicable, until all reasonable hope of rescuing survivors has passed”.
Chapter 5 – Ship reporting systems
Recommends establishing ship reporting systems for search and rescue purposes, noting that existing ship reporting systems could provide adequate information for search and rescue purposes in a given area.
Concurrently with the revision of the SAR Convention, the IMO and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) jointly develop and publish the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual, published in three volumes covering Organization and Management; Mission Co-ordination; and Mobile Facilities.
The SAR RCC (Rescue Coordination Centre) should have state-of-the-art electronic equipment, including access to VTMS (if present), CRS (Maritime Communication), up-to-date information retrieval through internet and other sources, updated maps and charts, and access to existing resources present in their Search and Rescue Areas.