How do Search and Rescue (SAR) operations work and what is the role of Frontex in them?
Search and Rescue (SAR) is always a priority for everyone operating at sea.
International law obliges all captains of vessels to provide assistance to any persons found in distress at sea. SAR is also a specific objective of the operational plan of every Frontex joint maritime operation. For this reason, vessels deployed by Frontex to an operational area are always ready to provide support to the national authorities in SAR operations.
It is important to stress that all SAR operations are coordinated by the national Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCC). The MRCC orders those vessels which are either the closest to the incident or the most capable ones (due to the specialised training of the crew, or the vessels specifications, etc.) to assist in the rescue. These may include national commercial or military vessels, vessels deployed by Frontex, private boats and other.
During a standard border control operation, Frontex-deployed vessels operate under the command of the International Coordination Centre (ICC), but when contacted by the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre and redirected to a SAR operation, it is the MRCC that takes command. Once Frontex assets reach people in distress, they first provide immediate medical assistance and give them food and water. Once a rescue operation is completed, migrants are disembarked and handed over to the national authorities for identification and registration. In Italy and Greece, Frontex officers assist in registration and identification of the large numbers of arrivals in hotspots.
In 2018, Frontex-deployed assisted in the rescue of nearly 7580 people within Operation Themis in the Central Mediterranean Sea and Operation Poseidon in the Aegean Sea.