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International Conventions and Codes

1979 International Convention on Search and Rescue at Sea – (English International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue) (often referred to as the “ATS Convention”) was concluded in Hamburg (Federal Republic of Germany) on April 27, 1979.

The Convention establishes an international search and rescue system (ATS) to ensure that, regardless of the area of ​​the oceans in which the accident occurs, search and rescue efforts for people in distress are coordinated between the ATS services located in the area.The Convention invites the contracting parties to ensure the availability of appropriate search and rescue facilities in their countries, conclude search and rescue agreements among themselves, in particular, providing for easier access of rescue equipment of one state to the territorial sea of ​​another state, and to establish general procedures for efficient and quick search and rescue.

The Convention also provides for the establishment by States of rescue coordination centers and sub-centers, including the appointment of a coordinator at the site of the operation.

Following the adoption of the Convention by decision of the Maritime Safety Committee of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the oceans were divided into thirteen search and rescue zones. In each zone, the respective states must establish the boundaries of the areas in which they are responsible for conducting search and rescue operations.

Parties to the Convention establish so-called ship reporting systems, within which ships must report their location. In the event of an accident at sea, such a system can significantly reduce the time spent searching for a vessel and providing rescue services. This system also helps provide emergency medical assistance to seafarers, if necessary.

The technical requirements of the ATS Convention are contained in the Appendix, which consists of five chapters.

Due to the fact that the obligations imposed on states required significant financial costs (for example, the establishment of coastal structures), a small number of states have ratified the Convention, so the pace of implementation of the Convention was extremely slow.

In 1995, it was decided to introduce several important amendments to the Convention. In particular, the need emerged to bring the Convention in line with the search and rescue provisions developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
The revision of the technical requirements contained in the Annex was entrusted to the IMO Subcommittee on Radio Communication and Search and Rescue (COMSAR Subcommittee). The amendments were adopted by the IMO Maritime Safety Committee at its 69th session in May 1998 and entered into force on 1 January 2000.

In 2004, another set of amendments was adopted relating to persons in distress at sea. In particular, the following were added: identification of persons in distress at sea; provisions related to assisting the captain in transporting people saved at sea to a safe place; as well as important provisions establishing the duty of rescue coordination centers or rescue sub-centers to take actions to establish the most suitable places for the landing of persons found to be in distress at sea.

Simultaneously with the revision of the ATS Convention, IMO worked to improve practical guidelines for search and rescue. In 1971, the IMO Guide for Search and Rescue for Merchant Ships (MERSAR) was issued, and in 1978, the International Aviation and Marine Manual for Search and Rescue (IAMSAR Manual).

Both IMO documents offered interested national organizations practical advice on helping people in distress and ships at sea.
The IAMSAR manual was agreed to the extent possible with the relevant guidelines developed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Further development of communication facilities and technical capabilities of aviation and marine search and rescue, as well as the need for closer cooperation between both industries in this area, led to the fact that IMO and ICAO jointly adopted the International Guide to Aviation and Marine Search and Rescue (RAMAS), which currently used by all aircraft and ships. RAMAS consists of three volumes: Organization and management; Coordination; and mobile facilities. The last third volume should be on board each ship.

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