Search and Rescue

A State’s Search and Rescue (SAR) Responsibilities
States recognize the great importance of cooperation in aeronautical and maritime SAR, and in the provision of expeditious and effective SAR services to save lives and reduce suffering and have assumed their respective responsibilities for SAR within the framework of the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, 1979, the Convention on International Civil Aviation, 1944, and the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual.

Each State on receiving information of an incident, where any person is in distress within its SAR region, is required to take urgent measures to provide the most appropriate assistance regardless of the nationality or status of such a person, or the circumstances in which that incident occurred or is detected.

Antigua and Barbuda Flagged Ships’ Responsibilities
In accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the sea (UNCLOS), to which Antigua and Barbuda is a party, the Administration requires the master of an Antigua and Barbuda flagged ship, in so far as he can do so without serious danger to the ship, the crew or the passenger:

  • To render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being lost; and
  • To proceed with all possible speed to the rescue of persons in distress, if informed of their need of assistance, in so far as such action may reasonably be expected of him.

This obligation on the master is further reinforced under SOLAS Chapter V: “The master of a ship at sea which is in a position to be able to provide assistance on receiving information from any source that persons are in distress at sea, is bound to proceed with all speed to their assistance, if possible informing them or the search and rescue service that the ship is doing so”.

“This obligation to provide assistance applies regardless of the nationality or status of such persons or the circumstances in which they are found. If the ship receiving the distress alert is unable or, in the special circumstances of the case, considers it unreasonable or unnecessary to proceed to their assistance, the master must enter in the log-book the reason for failing to proceed to the assistance of the persons in distress, taking into account the recommendation of the Organization, to inform the appropriate search and rescue service accordingly”. 

SAR Operations
Antigua and Barbuda expects that “Contracting Governments shall co-ordinate and co-operate to ensure that masters of ships providing assistance by embarking persons in distress at sea are released from their obligations with minimum further deviation from the ships’ intended voyage, provided that releasing the master of the ship from the obligations under the current regulation does not further endanger the safety of life at sea.

It is further noted that “the Contracting Government responsible for the search and rescue region in which such assistance is rendered shall exercise primary responsibility for ensuring such co-ordination and co-operation occurs, so that survivors assisted are disembarked from the assisting ship and delivered to a place of safety, taking into account the particular circumstances of the case and guidelines developed by the Organization. In these cases, the relevant Contracting Governments shall arrange for such disembarkation to be effected as soon as reasonably practicable”.

SAR operations should normally be carried out in accordance with the relevant SAR manuals and recommendations of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), including the IAMSAR Manual (as amended from time to time), taking into account SAR procedures established by national legislation.

SAR responders are expected to make every effort to retrieve persons in distress, provide for their initial medical or other needs and deliver them to a place of safety; additionally, when it does not involve excessive risk or cost to the units involved in SAR operations, the Parties may attempt to rescue the craft or vessel on which the persons in danger are aboard.

To ensure that SAR operations are conducted in an efficient and coordinated manner, the SAR responders should consult and cooperate with each other as necessary and appropriate, lending mutual assistance as their capabilities allow.

Antigua and Barbuda’s National Maritime Search and Rescue Regime
The Antigua and Barbuda Department of Marine Services and Merchant Shipping (ADOMS) is the National Focal Point for the International Maritime Organisation and therefore takes the lead on SAR related matters from a policy perspective.

The Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force Coast Guard (ABDF CG) is Antigua and Barbuda’s authority for the provision of SAR services at the operational level within the country’s Area of Responsibility (AOR).

The ABDF CG SAR programme is geared towards all maritime related SAR emergencies where lives are in danger.  All available personnel and rescue units are used to locate persons in distress, potential distress or missing at sea, and recover them to a place of safety providing for their initial medical care or other needs, as necessary.

Although not exclusive, these SAR emergencies could result from accidents involving vessels and aeroplanes. Land based incidents which require a SAR service are deferred to other agencies such as the Fire Department for the management and coordination of such cases.  However, the ABDF CG could assist as deemed necessary.

ABDF CG SAR Objectives

  • Minimize loss of life and injury in the marine environment;
  • Prevent the loss of property if the resources are available to do so;
  • Minimize crew risk during SAR missions;
  • Optimize the use of resources in conducting SAR missions; and
  • Provide leadership in the coordination of SAR missions in Antigua and Barbuda’s AOR and neighbouring States’ AOR as the situation warrants.

ABDF CG SAR – Basic System Functions

  • Receive, acknowledge, and relay
  • Co-ordinate SAR response; and
  • Conduct SAR operations.

SAR AREA OF RESPONSIBILITY – Central And Eastern Caribbean
Antigua and Barbuda is part of the wider Regional Maritime Rescue Coordinating Center (MRCC) and falls within the maritime area covered by the MRCC, Fort De France, Martinique. The MRCC Forte De France has a comprehensive SAR coordination plan that involves all maritime rescue agencies, whether military or police, from all the island States within its SRR.

Central and Eastern Caribbean MRCCs

Cooperation within the French SRR

Regional Cooperation
The ABDF CG  also coordinates with other agencies such as Regional Security System (RSS), headquartered in Barbados, and as the need arises will integrate the use of RSS member States’ maritime assets and the RSS C-26 aircraft in SAR cases. Coordination is likewise done with the United States Coast Guard Sector San Juan, Puerto Rico, where their maritime assets can be requested to create a force multiplier when necessary.

RSS Member States

SAR Mitigation Activities – Maritime Safety Information broadcasts
The ABDF CG regularly broadcasts Maritime Safety Information (MSI) by radio, which includes:

  • information on wind strength and direction;
  • warnings of restricted visibility;
  • updates on sea conditions; and
  • navigational guidance and warnings.

MSI broadcasts may be interrupted or delayed due to search and rescue operations.