August 24, 2005
Australia issues rescue guidelines
Australia's Department of Transport and Regional Services (DOTARS) has recently issued Guidelines for Commercial Shipping Rescuing Persons at Sea In or Adjacent to the Australian Search and Rescue Region.
In its introduction to its recently issued guidelines, DOTARS says that while international conventions are clear on duties to assist persons in distress at sea, no conventions specify where survivors are to be taken.
"In recent years," notes DOTARS, "cases have emerged of people attempting to enter countries illegally by boat, often in overcrowded and unseaworthy craft that may get into distress, either accidentally or by design. A more recent development has been the use of force or threat to 'persuade' masters and crews of rescuing ships to transport survivors to a particular destination."
DOTARS says its guidelines are "intended to provide guidance to ships' masters involved in the rescue of persons at sea in relation to arrangements for landing survivors. The guidelines should be read in conjunction with Resolution MSC.167(78)1 , adopted by the Maritime Safety Committee of the International Maritime Organization on 20 May 2004."
Among other things, the guidelines note that:
Any decision to disembark rescued persons at a particular port of a State should not be made without the consent of that State;
The involvement of any ship in a rescue is likely to have commercial consequences and these consequences should be taken into account in determining the arrangements for disembarking rescued persons from the rescuing ship;
Australia has an obligation to give expeditious consideration to the identification of suitable options for the disembarkation of rescued persons and to not unreasonably withhold consent to use its port or ports for disembarkation;
Disembarkation arrangements for survivors need to be consistent with any security or border protection arrangements developed nationally, internationally or regionally;
There should be no encouragement or incentive for persons to be deliberately put at risk in pursuit of entry to Australia or for rescuees to use threat in an endeavour to dictate the place of disembarkation; and
Australia has a sovereign right to determine who comes into Australia.
While the guidelines go through the various stages of who should notify whom about what during the various stages of a rescue, shipowners will find little to comfort them in one of the guidelines on disembarkation of resued persons. It says:
"If expeditious agreement cannot be obtained to disembark the rescued persons at the preferred port or transfer them to another ship, RCC Australia will notify the Master, the flag State and the State of the preferred port that an impasse has arisen."