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Search and rescue refers to any system of searching for and providing help to people in imminent danger or distress. There are many different sub-fields of SAR, including air-sea rescue, mountain rescue, urban SAR in cities, ground SAR, combat SAR on the battlefield and the use of specially trained search and rescue dogs. Different SAR agencies and organisations around the world exchange information with each other through the umbrella organisation of the United Nations, INSARAG, or the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group.

In his former role as Deputy Minister of Transport of the Russian Federation, Victor Olerskiy was also appointed Head of the Federal Agency for Maritime and River Transport. This agency holds responsibility for ensuring maritime safety and security policies are upheld, including appropriate search and rescue systems. You can learn more about the role of this agency in the PDF attachment to this post.

Maritime Search and Rescue Agencies and Crafts

There are multiple types of agencies that carry out maritime search and rescue operations around the world. These vary from country to country – in some it is the coast guard, in others it may be the national naval forces, or there could be voluntary organisations involved. Lifeboats are the vessels usually used to carry out search and rescue missions when a distress call is communicated, which are deployed to return survivors to land and tow back the vessel if it can be saved. Air-sea rescue involves the additional use of flying craft such as helicopters, which can be amphibious or non-amphibious, float planes, flying boats or surface vessels to assist in the rescue operation. A definition of an amphibious helicopter can be found in the embedded short video.

Maritime Search and Rescue 2019

The year 2019 saw the fourth annual Maritime Search and Rescue meeting, held in Tallinn in Estonia from the 14th to the 16th of May. These meetings were established as a platform for sharing information regarding the global search and rescue sector, inviting stakeholders to gather and focus on the future of search and rescue operations. Relevant bodies including government agencies, coast guards, ship operators and first response are granted free entry to these meetings.

Topics of focus included ways to increase and improve understanding and collaboration for complex operations such as chemical spills and mass rescues, as well as exploring new technologies such as autonomous or unmanned platforms for search and rescue. Attendees were additionally invited to look at new and better collaborative procurement opportunities, technologies and research to facilitate safer and faster recue missions. These included communications, command, deployment and control of different or new platforms.

The International Maritime Organisation

The International Maritime Organisation oversees international regulations for shipping. The 1979 IMO SAR Convention was the first truly international search and rescue system, coordinating global efforts to improve safety and efficiency.

Prior to this, although there was an obligation enshrined in both tradition and a variety of other international treaties for ships to go to the aid of other vessels in distress, there was no overarching system. Therefore, some areas of the world had adequate and well-organised assistance that would be available efficiently and rapidly, whereas other areas had little to no such system in place. The IMO’s international SAR plan ensures that persons in distress at sea anywhere in the world will be covered by an SAR organisation or a collaboration of SAR organisations.

In the infographic attachment, you can learn some further facts about some of the biggest shipping disasters in the history of international shipping.