Refugees at Sea- April 2015

Update: UK Defence Club release Soundings

The UK Defence Club have released a Soundings based on the deviation to safe life at sea. The PDF is available on their website and can also be accessed here: 

ICS Second edition of 'Large scale rescue at sea published'

Update  - 17/07/15
The ongoing situation in the Mediterranean surrounding Refugees has resulted in the ICS producing a second edition of their 'Large scale rescue at sea' publication. A pdf of the publication is available here.

Highlighting the importance of Rescue at Sea

Any shipowners operating in the Mediterranean have a duty to save life at sea.

Rescuing migrants at sea is particularly topical given the on-going situation in the Mediterranean with the end of Mare Nostrum and the start of Triton. The number of migrants and refugees requiring rescue at sea has continued to rise in 2015, this has led to a number of enquiries from Members on the issue. The UN Refugee Agency's (UNCHR) has recommended urgent measures to be adopted in order to deal with the on-going issue.

These measures can be summarised as follows:

  • Setting in place a proactive and well-resourced search and rescue operation, urgently and without delay, with a capacity similar to Mare Nostrum and a clear mission to save lives.
  • Creating sufficient channels for safe and regular migration, including for low-skilled migrant workers and individuals in need of family reunification, and access to protection where needed, as safe alternatives to resorting to smugglers.
  • Making a firm commitment to receive significantly higher numbers of refugees through EU-wide resettlement, in addition to current quotas, and on a scale which will make a real impact, combined with other legal means for refugees to reach safety.
  • Encouraging arrangements to support those countries receiving the most arrivals (Italy, Malta, and Greece) and to distribute responsibility more equitably across the European Union for saving lives and protecting all those in need. This could include assisting these Member States to establish streamlined fast-track procedures, such as accelerated procedures for manifestly-founded claims (Syrians as an example) ; support for identification of people rescued at sea (including but not limited to fingerprinting), and reinforcement of reception capacities without delay to meet EU reception standards
  •  Combatting racist and xenophobic rhetoric vilifying migrants and refugees.

For more information visit:

IMO guidelines and information

General procedure followed by authorities.

The general procedures followed by the authorities are those provided by International conventions (SOLAS, SAR ecc.). A summary can be found in the IMO guidelines as published below:

a) The Government responsible for the SAR region where the rescued persons were recovered is primarily responsible for providing a place of safety or ensuring that such a place of safety is provided;

b) The first RCC contacted should immediately begin efforts to transfer the case to the RCC responsible for the region in which the assistance is being rendered. When the RCC responsible for the SAR region in which assistance is needed is informed about the situation, that RCC should immediately accept responsibility for coordinating the rescue efforts, since related responsibilities, including arrangements for a place of safety for rescued persons, fall primarily on the Government responsible for that region. The first RCC, however, is responsible for coordinating the case until the responsible RCC or other competent authority assumes responsibility.

c) A place of safety is a location where rescue operations are considered to terminate, and where: the rescued persons’ safety of life is no longer threatened;

d) While an assisting ship may serve as a temporary place of safety, it should be relieved of this responsibility as soon as alternative arrangements can be made;

e) Any operations and procedures such as screening and status assessment of rescued persons that go beyond rendering assistance to persons in distress should not be allowed to hinder the provision of such assistance or unduly delay disembarkation;

f) RCCs have to maintain effective plans of operation and coordinating arrangements (interagency or ifternational plans and agreements if appropriate) in order to respond to all types of search-and-rescue situations, notably: recovery operations; disembarkation of rescued persons from a ship; delivery of rescued persons to a place of safety; arrangements with other entities (such as customs, border-control and immigration authorities; the ship owner; or the flag State), while rescued persons are still aboard the assisting ship—with regard to nationalities, status or circumstances of the rescued persons, including temporary provisions for hosting rescued persons while such issues are being resolved; and measures to relieve the ship as soon as practicable, avoiding undue delay, financial burden or other difficulties incurred by assisting persons at sea.

The IMO website also provides a valuable resource for the principles and practices applied to rescuing migrants and refugee's and provides a useful background on the conditions which force illegal migration. Visit the page here.

Other useful advice

ICS Publications:

The ICS have recently published documents to highlight the obligations Masters and Government Rescue Coordination Centres have when involved in rescue at sea situations, and how to respond successfully. See the guide here:

Furthermore, Large scale rescue at Sea  has been released specifically in response to the current refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. It stresses the importance of preparation and planning in advance, which enables masters and crews to respond safely. The Second Edition has also recently been published and is available here:

Norwegian Shipowners Association (NSA):

The Norwegian Shipowners Association (NSA) has issued useful advice on rescuing distressed persons at sea. Find the PDF here.


BIMCO has recently issued an advisory pressurising the coastal states to find a permanent solution with regards to the rising number of Migrant cases. Read it here.

The Maritime Safety Committee (MSE):

See The Maritime Safety Committee's guidelines on treatment of persons rescued at sea and safety of life at sea.

UK P&I Website:

For continued updates on the situation as it happens, be sure to check back on the Clubs' dedicated 'Refugee's at Sea' webpage.

Previous articles from the Club

2015 has seen increased reporting of maritime casualties in the Mediterranean, as vessels carrying refugees from North Africa and the Middle East get into difficulties. Michael Ritter explains.

On 1st November 2014, Italy officially ended the sea rescue mission “Mare Nostrum” which launched almost a year ago, following the fatal drowning of more than 360 African immigrants off the Island of Lampedusa on 3rd October 2013.

In recent week’s more than 2000 migrants were rescued form the Mediterranean Sea, and several hundred lost their lives. International Maritime Organization (IMO) Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu has called for greater action to address the criminal gangs arranging for illegal and unregulated sea passage by migrants that put thousands of lives at risk – both migrants and rescue services.

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