5.1 We must remember that 'rescue' essentially means three things: retrieving people in distress; attending to their immediate needs; and transferring them to a 'place of safety'. It is not simply a matter of 'picking people up'. Different types of SAR facility will be more or less capable of each of the three parts of rescue.
5.2 Obviously, SAR units trained and equipped for retrieval will be more capable of it than big ships and other such facilities where training and equipment is limited. Low freeboard areas, manoeuvrability, lifting devices and experienced crew are all very useful in at-sea rescue, and designated rescue units should have them all. But there will be insufficient such units available in an MRO.
5.3 Other vessels on scene should therefore also be assigned to retrieval. Smaller craft such as fishing vessels, pilot boats, patrol boats, customs launches and suitable leisure craft might be used (although see below as regards the last category). If there are no such craft on scene, or not enough of them, ships and other large units may be able to deploy their own rescue craft. If this too is insufficient, or impracticable, ships will have to attempt retrieval direct. See guidance paper 2.4 and the IMO guidance referred to in that paper.
5.4 Ships can facilitate retrieval by circling the operating area to calm the sea within it to some extent. This technique is mentioned in the IMO's guidance, and can be very effective – but it does require sea-room and, especially in an MRO, careful coordination and good communication between the units participating.
5.5 It is one of the OSC's functions (see guidance paper 4.4) to advise the SMC on best use of the facilities on scene. Usually the OSC can see what is happening direct while the SMC cannot, and usually the OSC will be a professional mariner, able to appraise the conditions and the consequent capabilities of the units on scene. The OSC can, for example, see if small craft are having difficulty, and – in discussion with their commanders – can determine which of the larger vessels on scene are best suited to the retrieval task.
5.6 Not all maritime rescue happens at sea. An MRO on the shoreline may also involve land SAR units, who will be best placed to rescue people heading for the nearest beach in survival craft etc.
5.7 Once people are retrieved, the rescue moves to its next phase – the transfer to a 'place of safety', providing for survivors' initial needs while on passage: see guidance papers 2.6 & 2.7. Here the situation becomes more complicated, for a small unit well-suited to picking people up may not have the facilities or personnel to care for them on board for long (and thus does not really qualify as even a temporary place of safety). It may be best to transfer people recovered by a small rescue unit into a larger one, for their own well-being and to enable the first rescue unit to go back for more. But this too may be complex: transfer between the two units is not risk-free, and may be too difficult to be attempted.
5.8 Again, it is for the OSC to discuss the options with the commanders of the units concerned and to advise the SMC as to the best way forward. Difficult decisions may have to be made. The risks of transfer from a small unit to a large one may have to be accepted, for example, if other people are still waiting to be retrieved.
5.9 The reader is again referred to the discussion in guidance paper 2.6 of what constitutes a 'temporary place of safety'. A large ship does not automatically qualify, despite being a large and safe platform, for she may well have only a small crew and limited accommodation, food, water and medical capability. Survivors may have to be kept on open decks – which raises new safety concerns. On vessels carrying flammable cargoes, for example, survivors must not be allowed to smoke. Security may also be an issue in some circumstances.
5.10 Where there is a choice of units able to take survivors aboard, the OSC and the ships' masters should agree priorities and distribution if time permits, keeping the SMC informed.
5.11 When the ratio of crew to the number of survivors is low and/or when the transfer to the place of safety ashore will take some time, there is a risk of crew fatigue, with consequential risks to safety. The crew have to run their ship as well as tend to, or monitor, the survivors. The SMC may be able to arrange additional support – medical and welfare support in particular, but also personnel to help control the situation aboard – for rescue units that require it. As noted in guidance paper 2.6, the SMC should not assume, just because survivors are aboard a rescue unit, that that unit's crew will be able to look after them unaided. Rescue is a holistic process, and the SMC is responsible for coordinating the whole of it. The commanders of rescue units are also responsible for asking for help if they need it.
5.12 The selection of the place of safety to which the survivors are transferred should primarily depend on what is best overall for those survivors. However, the choice of vessel to effect the transfer may have a bearing on the matter. Large ships, for example, may be unable to enter small harbours nearby. A transfer at sea into smaller craft may not be the best option; and the SOLAS and SAR Conventions stipulate that ships undertaking rescue work should be inconvenienced as little as possible when it comes to landing those rescued (see below), which can also be a factor. At the other end of the scale, small rescue units may need to seek shelter in nearby harbours when it might be preferable from an overall point of view if they landed their survivors at other, more distant places.
5.13 In many cases it will be a matter of securing survivors as best possible first and deciding where to take them second. Nevertheless, the decision is one for the SMC, in consultation with the rescue units and the relevant authorities ashore. See guidance paper 4.8.