A Statement by the Undersecretary of State for Defence on the Application of the Hamburg Convention on Maritime Search And Rescue (SAR)


On 10 January 2014, the Undersecretary of State for Defence, Mr. Gioacchino Alfano, reported before the Chamber of Deputies on the sinking of a fishing vessel that took place on 11 October 2013, 113 km away from Lampedusa and 218 from Malta. The sinking caused the death of hundreds of Syrian refugees, including many children. A member of the Parliament called into question the proper management of the rescue operations, namely as to the lack of coordination between the Italian and Maltese authorities, that resulted in a late intervention. He also contested the effectiveness of the rules provided for by the Hamburg Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) in so far as they allow a SAR area to be put under the jurisdiction of an authority which is not necessarily the best placed to intervene, as in the case at issue, where the competent authority was the Maltese one. In response to the parliamentary question, Mr. Alfano said:

The organizational framework agreed on at international level derives from the Hamburg Convention and provides for the conclusion of regional agreements on the delimitation of SAR areas […] aiming at including, in addition to the territorial waters of each country, portions of the high seas, in order to ensure the maximum degree of protection to human life by providing an ongoing and comprehensive covering of navigable waters through the identification of a single competent SAR authority. The continuous and recurring interaction between competent SAR authorities over neighbouring areas is governed by the principle according to which, in all circumstances, only one rescue center is responsible for coordinating the operations within an area, in order not to engender the dangerous decisional void brought about by the uncertainty as to who is to intervene. This center is responsible for any operational decisions and the related schedules, including the request for support to another SAR authority, should the competent authority deem its resources to be insufficient. […]

[…] with regard to the considerations concerning the application of the Hamburg Convention, it is observed that, according to this international instrument, there could be only one authority responsible for the coordination of rescue operations within a SAR area. Such provisions are not liable of discretionary derogations by a single SAR authority, that, furthermore, cannot exercise any supervision over the activity performed by other States within their respective area of jurisdiction. […] The need to comply with the abovementioned Convention does not allow a national SAR authority to replace another authority in the conduct of operations, which in the present case, however, were already underway […].

The full Italian version of the speech can be found at:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s