Mass Rescue Operations


The International Maritime Rescue Federation Mass Rescue Operations Project:

The use of regional resources


The IMRF’s mass rescue operations (MRO) guidance is provided in 30 separate chapters. For downloadable documents referenced in this chapter please use the drop-down menus or return to the MRO project main page under ‘MRO Library’. For a general introduction please see chapter 1, ‘Complex incident planning – the challenge: acknowledging the problem, and mass rescue incident types’.

This chapter discusses:

the cooperative use of regional resources to extend SAR capability
extending operational and tactical mutual support arrangements between neighbouring States into the strategic sphere for MRO planning purposes
the recommendations of the United Nations and its specialised agencies regarding regional cooperation
the types of resource that may be shared by States regionally
planning, training and exercising regionally
other regional, non-governmental resources that may be available

1 Filling the Capability Gap

1.1 As noted in chapter 13, the guidance in this part focuses on three ways of filling the capability gap, and some of the funding issues inevitable to MRO planning and response. The identification of additional rescue resources is considered in chapter 13. We look at ‘extending survival times’ by using specialist resources, including on-board support, in chapter 15. Funding issues are discussed in chapter 16. This chapter considers the cooperative use of regional resources to extend SAR capability.

2 Regional Cooperation Between States

2.1 It makes good operational and tactical sense for neighbouring States to plan cooperatively  for ‘normal’ SAR incidents near the boundaries of their SAR Regions and to exercise their plans together, so that they are ready to respond efficiently in such cases, sharing SAR facilities, etc. Usually one State will take the coordination lead and the other(s) will act in support, to avoid confusion on scene. In some cases the places of safety to which survivors are taken will be in more than one State. This international response needs to be carefully coordinated by and between the States concerned.

2.2 This mutual support arrangement can be extended into the strategic sphere for MROs, assessing all potential resources in the wider region. Distances, and therefore transit and on-scene endurance times, may limit the extent to which States can share on-scene search and rescue resources, but, where it is feasible to do so, every effort should be made to help close the ‘capability gap’ by this means. Borders should not hold back SAR resources.

2.3 We recognise that there are sometimes tensions between neighbouring States, concerning disputes over territorial waters, for example. But it is generally agreed internationally that lifesaving at sea takes precedence over such concerns. This guidance is written in that spirit, and in the spirit of the relevant international Conventions – the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (the ‘SAR Convention’), the Convention on International Civil Aviation, and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

3 The international Legal Position

3.1 UNCLOS Article 98, paragraph 2, reads:

"Every coastal State shall promote the establishment, operation and maintenance of an adequate and effective search and rescue service regarding safety on and over the water and, where circumstances so require, by way of mutual regional arrangements, cooperate with neighbouring States for this purpose.”

3.2 The IMO’s SAR Convention says, at Chapter 3 of its Annex, that States ratifying the Convention (the ‘Parties’) should coordinate their SAR organisations and SAR operations with those of neighbouring States:

“3.1.6  Each Party should authorize its rescue coordination centres [RCCs]:
1 to request from other RCCs such assistance, including vessels, aircraft, personnel or equipment, as may be needed;
to grant any necessary permission for the entry of such vessels, aircraft, personnel or equipment into or over its territorial sea or territory;
3 to make the necessary arrangements with the appropriate customs, immigration, health or other authorities with a view to expediting such entry; and
to make the necessary arrangements in cooperation with other RCCs to identify the most appropriate place(s) for disembarking persons found in distress at sea.
“3.1.7 Each Party shall ensure that its RCCs provide, when requested, assistance to other RCCs, including assistance in the form of vessels, aircraft, personnel or equipment.
“3.1.8 Parties should enter into agreements with other States, where appropriate, to strengthen search and rescue cooperation and coordination. Parties shall authorize their responsible authority to make operational plans and arrangements for search and rescue cooperation and coordination with responsible authorities of other States.”


3.3 Similarly, the IAMSAR Manual recommends a regional approach wherever practicable, on economic grounds as well as for enhanced efficiency and effectiveness. The legal and common-sense basis for strategic cooperation on SAR is clear.

4 Regional Cooperation Between States on MRO Planning

4.1 As well as concerns about territorial rights, etc., it may be felt that there is a political difficulty in the cooperative approach, along the lines of ‘We should be able to do this by ourselves’. But an MRO, by definition, cannot be handled with the resources normally available. Anyone in favour of self-sufficiency in this regard must either significantly increase their spending on permanent resources or show that they can manage with the additional facilities likely to be available at the time of any incident. The first option is unlikely to make economic sense, granted the rarity of such incidents (see chapter 16).

4.2 The second option, the identification of additional SAR resources, should be part of the MRO planning in any event. In some cases neighbouring States may be too far apart geographically to make on-scene resource-sharing a practical option (although mutual support can still be a possibility – see below). Where resource-sharing does make practical sense, however, it should be included in the planning in addition to the other ways of filling the MRO capability gap discussed in chapters 13 & 15.

4.3 This requires a strategic approach, at the SAR Coordinator level (see chapter 18). SAR Coordinators should link their MRO planning regionally, to make best use of all available resources. These may include:

o COORDINATION FACILITIES: with modern telecommunications equipment, RCCs can be remote from the MRO. It may be best use of the available resource to agree a regional centre, suitably staffed and equipped, to lead on an MRO wherever the incident occurs across the region. IAMSAR Volume I notes that “Each SRR [SAR Region] needs an RCC, but each State does not necessarily need an SRR if one RCC can be supported by and serve more than one State” (Chapter 1.7.1).
o COMMUNICATIONS FACILITIES: an MRO inevitably involves very many communication requirements, but the load can be shared, by prior agreement.
o SAR FACILITIES: units to actually do the search and rescue work on scene. A pre-planned regional pooling of surface and air SAR assets will obviously increase capability, always provided that they can reach the scene within survival times. IAMSAR Volume I makes these points at Chapter 1.7.2.
o LANDING SITES, and the shoreside facilities to service them. As discussed in chapter 24, the nearest landing site to the incident is not necessarily the best. An MRO will involve major demands on shoreside transport, medical and survivor reception facilities. It may be that the best landing site – in terms of accessibility as well as infrastructure – is in a neighbouring State. It will also spread the load if, granted the necessary access and shoreside support, several landing sites are used, and again it is possible that these will be in more than one State across the region. This approach gives rise to additional challenges of international information exchange, but that is preferable to overloading landing sites locally.

4.4 SAR Coordinators should liaise with their counterparts in neighbouring States to agree the mutual assistance that can be provided in the event of an MRO. In doing so, it should be noted that mutual support goes beyond the provision of SAR units on scene. Regional rescue coordination arrangements have already been mentioned, for example. Search planning can also be done remotely, relieving the lead Rescue Coordination Centre of that particular task. And States too remote to send rescue units to help with the at-sea operation may still be able to provide help later in the rescue process, sharing medical, transport, welfare support and/or communications resources.

4.5 If it is agreed that there would be benefits in cooperating regionally in one or more of these areas – rescue support, on scene or later; search and search planning support; coordination and communications support, etc. – SAR Coordinators should arrange either to link their individual MRO plans or to draw up a regional MRO plan. See chapter 5.

4.6 Regional planning should then lead to regional training. There are considerable benefits to be achieved in training people from across the region together, especially those who may be interacting directly when an MRO occurs. This training should at least include the international, regional element of the planning. See chapter 26.

4.7 Finally, to test both planning and training, regional exercises should be arranged: see chapter 28.

5 Other Regional Resources

5.1 So far we have discussed regional cooperation between governments. It should also be remembered that there may be other resources in the region which can help fill the capability gap.

5.2 We discuss the involvement of air and surface craft operating in the area in chapter 13, including the units associated with the various offshore industries (oil, gas, wind, etc). These industries usually have sophisticated shore-based emergency response systems in place in support of their own personnel. This resource too may be of significant help in MROs generally. Where there is such an industry presence, the operators should be included in the planning.

6 Summary

o Neighbouring States should cooperate as necessary in any SAR operation.
o Regional mutual support arrangements should extend to the strategic level for MRO planning purposes, to help close the ‘capability gap’.
o This approach is recommended in international conventions, regulations and guidance. Local tensions or national pride should not be allowed to impede this humanitarian work.
o Activities and resources that may be shared include search planning, rescue coordination, communications facilities, surface and air SAR assets, landing sites, and shoreside resources and infrastructure.
o If benefits through regional cooperation are identified, MRO plans should be linked regionally or a regional MRO plan should be agreed; responders should be trained in the plan; and both plan and training should be tested.
o All regional resources should be considered in this respect, including non-governmental resources such as those of the offshore industries.

7 Further Reading

7.1 As noted above, the UN and their specialised agencies, IMO and ICAO, recommend regional cooperation in various Conventions and other texts. In the IAMSAR Manual the subject is covered in Volume I Chapter 1, especially sections 1.6 & 1.7, and in Volume II Chapter 1.1.