International law obliges all vessels to provide assistance to any persons found in distress, making search and rescue (SAR) a priority for everyone operating at sea.
Frontex’s role in SAR operations is enshrined in its Regulation 2016/1624. Frontex is obliged to provide technical and operational assistance to Member States and non-EU countries in support of SAR operations that may arise during border surveillance operations at sea.
SAR is 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 also provide support to the national authorities in SAR operations.
It is important to underline that SAR operations are always coordinated by the national Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCC). The MRCC orders vessels that 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
vessels 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 migrants arriving in hotspots.