IntroductionObjectives of providing a place of refuge 1.1
Where the safety of life is involved, the provisions of the SAR Convention should be
followed. Where a ship is in need of assistance but safety of life is not involved, these guidelines
should be followed.
The issue of "places of refuge" is not a purely theoretical or doctrinal debate but the
solution to a practical problem: What to do when a ship finds itself in serious difficulty or in need
of assistance without, however, presenting a risk to the safety of life of persons involved. Should
the ship be brought into shelter near the coast or into a port or, conversely, should it be taken out
When a ship has suffered an incident, the best way of preventing damage or pollution
from its progressive deterioration would be to lighten its cargo and bunkers; and to repair the
damage. Such an operation is best carried out in a place of refuge.
However, to bring such a ship into a place of refuge near a coast may endanger the coastal
State, both economically and from the environmental point of view, and local authorities and
populations may strongly object to the operation.
While coastal States may be reluctant to accept damaged or disabled ships into their area
of responsibility due primarily to the potential for environmental damage, in fact it is rarely
possible to deal satisfactorily and effectively with a marine casualty in open sea conditions.
In some circumstances, the longer a damaged ship is forced to remain at the mercy of the
elements in the open sea, the greater the risk of the vessel.s condition deteriorating or the sea,
weather or environmental situation changing and thereby becoming a greater potential hazard.
Therefore, granting access to a place of refuge could involve a political decision which
can only be taken on a case-by-case basis with due consideration given to the balance between
the advantage for the affected ship and the environment resulting from bringing the ship into a
place of refuge and the risk to the environment resulting from that ship being near the coast.
There are circumstances under which it may be desirable to carry out a cargo transfer
operation or other operations to prevent or minimize damage or pollution. For this purpose, it
will usually be advantageous to take the ship to a place of refuge.
Taking such a ship to a place of refuge would also have the advantage of limiting the
extent of coastline threatened by damage or pollution, but the specific area chosen may be more
severely threatened. Consideration must also be given to the possibility of taking the affected
ship to a port or terminal where the transfer or repair work could be done relatively easily. For
this reason the decision on the choice and use of a place of refuge will have to be carefully
The use of places of refuge could encounter local opposition and involve political
decisions. The coastal States should recognize that a properly argued technical case, based on a
clear description of the state of the casualty, would be of great value in any negotiations which
may take place.
At the international level, the Conventions listed in Appendix 1, as may be amended,
constitute, inter alia, the legal context within which coastal States and ships act in the envisaged
Purpose of the Guidelines1.12
The purpose of these Guidelines is to provide Member Governments, shipmasters,
companies* (particularly in connection with the ISM Code and procedures arising therefrom),
and salvors with a framework enabling them to respond effectively and in such a way that, in any
given situation, the efforts of the shipmaster and shipping company concerned and the efforts of
the government authorities involved are complementary. In particular, an attempt has been made
to arrive at a common framework for assessing the situation of ships in need of assistance.
1.13 These Guidelines do not address the issue of operations for the rescue of persons at sea
, inasmuch as the practical difficulties that have given rise to the examination of the issue of
places of refuge relate to problems other than those of rescue. Two situations can arise:
1.14 If, however, in an evolving situation, the persons on board find themselves in
distress, the rules applicable to rescue operations under the SAR Convention, the IAMSAR
Manual and documents arising therefrom have priority over the present Guidelines (and
procedures arising herefrom).1.15
- the ship, according to the master's assessment, is in need of assistance but not in a
distress situation (about to sink, fire developing, etc.) that requires the evacuation
of those on board; or
- those on board have already been rescued, with the possible exception of those
who have stayed on board or have been placed on board in an attempt to deal with
the situation of the ship.
In any case the competent MRCC should be informed about any situation which may
develop into a SAR incident.
Even though a .rescue. operation, as defined in the International Convention on Maritime
Search and Rescue (SAR) is not the case, the safety of persons must nevertheless be constantly
borne in mind in the application of these Guidelines, particularly in two respects:
- if the ship poses a risk (explosion, serious pollution, etc.) to the life of persons in
the vicinity (crews of salvage vessels, port workers, inhabitants of the coastal area,
- if persons voluntarily stay (master, etc.) or go (fire-fighters and other experts,
personnel of marine salvage or towage companies, etc.) on board to attempt to
overcome the difficulties experienced by the ship.
These Guidelines do not address the issue of liability and compensation for damage
resulting from a decision to grant or deny a ship a place of refuge.
Ship in need of assistance means a ship in a situation, apart from one requiring rescue of
persons on board, that could give rise to loss of the vessel or an environmental or navigational
Place of refuge means a place where a ship in need of assistance can take action to
enable it to stabilize its condition and reduce the hazards to navigation, and to protect human life
and the environment.
MAS means a maritime assistance service, as defined in resolution A.950(23),
responsible for receiving reports in the event of incidents and serving as the point of contact
between the shipmaster and the authorities of the coastal State in the event of an incident.
* As defined in the ISM Code.