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Web Alert: EU publishes new guidelines on places of refuge

14 March 2016

EU Member States have recently agreed EU-wide Operational Guidelines on places of refuge for ships in need of assistance. The guidelines are the product of a joint effort between Member States, the European Commission and key industry stakeholders and seek to promote positive attitudes within governments, port and local authorities and the industry for the purposes of places of refuge.
 
The catalyst behind these guidelines has been a series of maritime incidents involving ships in distress in waters outside the jurisdiction of any one state, which evidenced a need to enhance cooperation between Member States confronted with a ship in need of assistance.
 
The guidelines provide practical guidance for the different parties involved in the process of managing a request for a place of refuge from a ship in need of assistance to facilitate effective decision making.
 
As a matter of principle, each state involved in the operation should examine their ability to provide a place of refuge. A place of refuge request cannot be refused for commercial or financial reasons, nor should commercial interests become the main driver for the handling of port of refuge requests, or the selection of potential port of refuge. Unless deemed unsafe, states should not deny entry to a port in their jurisdiction without first carrying out a proper risk assessment of the casualty.

The guidelines do not cover search and rescue (SAR) operations; the provisions of the SAR Convention take precedence over these Guidelines. They also do not apply to incidents on inland waterways.
 
Although non-mandatory in nature, the guidelines are intended to supplement the existing framework as established by IMO Guidelines on Places of Refuge, Resolution A.949(23) and the Vessel Traffic Monitoring Directive 2002/59/EC , and should not be treated as replacing existing legal obligations.