1. Member States shall observe their obligation to render assistance to any vessel or person in distress at sea and, during a sea operation, they shall ensure that their participating units comply with that obligation, in accordance with international law and respect for fundamental rights. They shall do so regardless of the nationality or status of such a person or the circumstances in which that person is found.
2. For the purpose of dealing with search and rescue situations that may occur during a sea operation, the operational plan shall contain, in accordance with relevant international law, including that on search and rescue, at least the following provisions:
When, in the course of a sea operation, the participating units have reason to believe that they are facing a phase of uncertainty, alert or distress as regards a vessel or any person on board, they shall promptly transmit all available information to the Rescue Coordination Centre responsible for the search and rescue region in which the situation occurs and they shall place themselves at the disposal of that Rescue Coordination Centre.
The participating units shall inform the International Coordination Centre as soon as possible of any contact with the Rescue Coordination Centre and of the course of action taken by them.
A vessel or the persons on board shall be considered to be in a phase of uncertainty in particular:
when a person has been reported as missing or a vessel is overdue; or
when a person or a vessel has failed to make an expected position or safety report.
A vessel or the persons on board shall be considered to be in a phase of alert in particular:
when, following a phase of uncertainty, attempts to establish contact with a person or a vessel have failed and inquiries addressed to other appropriate sources have been unsuccessful; or
when information has been received indicating that the operating efficiency of a vessel is impaired, but not to the extent that a distress situation is likely.
A vessel or the persons on board shall be considered to be in a phase of distress in particular:
when positive information is received that a person or a vessel is in danger and in need of immediate assistance; or
when, following a phase of alert, further unsuccessful attempts to establish contact with a person or a vessel and more widespread unsuccessful inquiries point to the probability that a distress situation exists; or
when information is received which indicates that the operating efficiency of a vessel has been impaired to the extent that a distress situation is likely.
Participating units shall, for the purpose of considering whether the vessel is in a phase of uncertainty, alert or distress, take into account and transmit all relevant information and observations to the responsible Rescue Coordination Centre including on:
the existence of a request for assistance, although such a request shall not be the sole factor for determining the existence of a distress situation;
the seaworthiness of the vessel and the likelihood that the vessel will not reach its final destination;
the number of persons on board in relation to the type and condition of the vessel;
the availability of necessary supplies such as fuel, water and food to reach a shore;
the presence of qualified crew and command of the vessel;
the availability and capability of safety, navigation and communication equipment;
the presence of persons on board in urgent need of medical assistance;
the presence of deceased persons on board;
the presence of pregnant women or of children on board;
the weather and sea conditions, including weather and marine forecasts.
While awaiting instructions from the Rescue Coordination Centre, participating units shall take all appropriate measures to ensure the safety of the persons concerned.
Where a vessel is considered to be in a situation of uncertainty, alert or distress but the persons on board refuse to accept assistance, the participating unit shall inform the responsible Rescue Coordination Centre and follow its instructions. The participating unit shall continue to fulfil a duty of care by surveying the vessel and by taking any measure necessary for the safety of the persons concerned, while avoiding to take any action that might aggravate the situation or increase the chances of injury or loss of life.
Where the Rescue Coordination Centre of a third country responsible for the search and rescue region does not respond to the information transmitted by the participating unit, the latter shall contact the Rescue Coordination Centre of the host Member State unless that participating unit considers that another internationally recognised Rescue Coordination Centre is better able to assume coordination of the search and rescue situation.
The operational plan may contain details adapted to the circumstances of the sea operation concerned.
3. Where the search and rescue situation has been concluded, the participating unit shall, in consultation with the International Coordination Centre, resume the sea operation.
Source : REGULATION (EU) No 656/2014