Searching for life in the rubble

How search and rescue teams comb debris for survivors after devastating earthquakes

essay about search and rescue

Governments and international organizations from around the world have responded with offers of support after a major earthquake of magnitude 7.8 struck central Turkey and northwest Syria, the world’s deadliest tremor in at least a decade.

Two days after the quake, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan admitted relief had been slow to arrive.

Search and rescue in urban disaster zones is a methodical process often conducted jointly by local emergency management authorities and international teams. Speed is essential as people trapped in the rubble often struggle to survive for longer than a few days. And the area hit by the disaster can be vast.

The International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG), a network of countries and organisations under a U.N. umbrella, helps facilitate coordination between international search and rescue teams that deploy in such disasters.

Its guidelines describe distinct phases in organizing major multinational search and rescue operations.

Wide area assessment

A preliminary survey of the affected area is often carried out by local emergency teams while additional help arrives. The destruction may just involve one city, or it may encompass a large area involving numerous towns across more than one country, as with the latest quake. Teams conducting the initial visual assessment remain mobile - traveling quickly by air or road, if the infrastructure permits - and don’t engage in rescue operations.

The survey helps to identify possible resources and hazards, as well as the main priorities for search and rescue teams. The disaster area is often then drawn into sectors to allocate command and to assign search teams.

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Worksite triage

This assessment identifies viable live rescue sites in an allocated sector. The command center uses this information to prioritise rescue sites and decide which teams to deploy where. Emergency teams aim to assess the entire sector as quickly as possible.

At each site, rescuers seek to gather essential information such as building size, type of construction materials and the “building collapse category”, aimed at classifying the different types of damage and danger.

Rescue workers also look for and document survivable void spaces, such as stairwells or areas beneath beams. In some cases, people have survived in spaces like this for days.

If the space is big enough for a person to crawl through, the chances of survival are higher. Small voids are more dangerous as people trapped inside have less space to avoid further movement of debris or collapsing structural elements.

Similarly, rescue workers should look for dangers like downed power lines, gas leaks, flooding, and other hazards. Rescuers should use protective equipment, such as special suits, gloves, masks, and air quality monitoring devices.

Rapid search and rescue

In the early stages of a major earthquake response, when a large number of sites need checking, emergency teams conduct rapid searches to maximise the opportunities for saving lives. Teams are usually done at a site within a few hours, then move to the next.

Rescuers can use this stage to identify sites where a deeper search could be worthwhile. Specially trained dogs can be used to sniff out signs of life, moving quickly in the rubble.

Sound signalling

In major disasters - such as the 2021 temblor in the Caribbean nation of Haiti - where teams from many countries are present, language barriers mean that effective emergency signaling is essential for safe operations at the disaster site. All emergency personnel must know how to react to the sound signals, usually from air horns or other hailing devices.

Full search and rescue

This phase of operations locates and rescues a smaller number of trapped survivors who local rescuers, first responders, or level 3 operations could not reach. Rescue teams try to penetrate most or all of the survivable voids left inside collapsed structures. The process can involve multiple teams and last several days.

Carbon dioxide detectors and thermal imaging equipment can be used to find survivors, even if they are unconscious. Specialised teams can employ sensitive sound equipment to detect movement within buildings, while tiny video devices may be used to locate people buried beneath the rubble. Often debris must be removed by hand to avoid crushing survivors by using heavy equipment. Below are some of the smaller types of rescue equipment that may be used by rescue teams.

Search and rescue teams have worked day and night in cold, wet weather while also facing the threat of aftershocks. Rescuers have found some people alive in the rubble but many Turks have complained of a lack of equipment, expertise and support to rescue those trapped - sometimes even as they could hear cries for help. Amid the devastation, there have been reports of dramatic rescues across central Turkey and northwest Syria.

Jandaris, Syria

Feb. 7, 2023

Source: White Helmets

Unknown location

Source: IDF

Usually carried out after rescue efforts have been abandoned, the recovery phase may include the removal of large rubble piles and recovering bodies. This work can be carried out by local teams after international rescue workers have departed. Using heavy machinery and demolition equipment, teams try to access all voids left within collapsed structures.

The difficult decision of when to stop searching for trapped survivors is made by the coordinating U.N. agency and the state. Victims have been found to survive for more than two weeks trapped under rubble if they have access to water. However, search and rescue attempts are usually halted around a week after a disaster if no-one has been found alive in the previous day or two.

International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG); Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Additional work by

Jackie Gu, Sudev Kiyada and Anand Katakam

Dan Flynn and Robert Birsel

Journal of Search and Rescue

Free, Peer-Reviewed Research Into SAR

Welcome to JSAR

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JSAR serves those with a direct interest in all disciplines of search and rescue(SAR) including: rope rescue, water (flat, swift and marine), ice rescue, wilderness search and rescue, structural collapse rescue, trench collapse rescue, cave rescue, dive rescue, motor vehicle extrication, canine search, technical animal rescue, air rescue and mines rescue. The journal accepts article submissions from these and other SAR disciplines.

You can read and download all published articles on our Issues  page

We welcome questions, comments, suggestions and offers to help develop JSAR. Contact us at [email protected] .

essay about search and rescue

Secret Life of a Search and Rescue Volunteer

When someone goes missing on a frozen mountaintop or in a wildfire, my team heads out to help when no one else can — even if all we can do is bring back their bodies..

essay about search and rescue

Illustrations by Matt Chinworth | Edited by Lilly Dancyger

Three kids are missing on the mountain. They missed their check in, and search and rescue (SAR) has been tasked with finding them. It’s what we do. We track down the lost and injured and bring them home. I’ve been a member of this unit, primarily based around Mount Hood, Oregon, but working wherever we are needed in the Pacific Northwest, for about three years. Given my profound lack of experience at the onset, I’ve only actually been useful for about a year, maybe two.

We have a general idea of where the three kids are, or at least where they are supposed to be. At the base of the mountain, where most climbs start, is a climbers’ register where parties write down their intended route, expected return date, and what equipment they have – vital information in just this type of situation.

It’s cold and windy. Visibility is low. No one wants to be in the field on days like this. But, as Rocky, a veteran member once told me, only hal…

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Issue Cover

Article Contents

1. introduction, 2. the chain and the command, 3. chain 1: connecting to a dangerous coast, 4. chain 2: connecting to a port of relative safety, 5. the command, 6. the birds’-eye view, 7. conclusion: sanctuary at sea, acknowledgments.

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Floating sanctuaries: The ethics of search and rescue at sea

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Itamar Mann and Julia Mourão Permoser contributed equally to the work.

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Itamar Mann, Julia Mourão Permoser, Floating sanctuaries: The ethics of search and rescue at sea, Migration Studies , Volume 10, Issue 3, September 2022, Pages 442–463, https://doi.org/10.1093/migration/mnac007

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Search-and-Rescue NGOs in the Mediterranean have been increasingly criminalized. This criminalization has chilled conversation about the ethical dilemmas practitioners face. What, if any, can be the adverse byproducts of rescuing life at sea? In this article, we concentrate on the dilemmas involved in search and rescue (SAR) as rescuers have described them. Our aim is two-fold. The first is to offer a phenomenological account of search-and-rescue dilemmas. The article sheds light on the complexity and nuance of the ethical landscape of maritime rescue, revealing an intricate web of interactions acknowledged by rescuers as posing ethical challenges. The second aim is to offer a conceptual framework for what it is that SAR NGOs are, in fact, doing. We contextualize their actions within the larger terrain of ‘border externalization’, in which states have moved enforcement activities to extraterritorial zones, where human rights law is diluted or inapplicable. We thus argue that the set of norms underlying NGO rescue practices amounts to a strategy of counter-externalization. The ideal here is that a window of opportunity can be created at sea, where human rights or international law protections more broadly apply, but enforcement powers of states are suspended. By utilizing these legal gray zones to the benefit of migrants, rescuers effectively turn extraterritorial zones from spaces of lawlessness into spaces of resistance. The rescue ship thus becomes a ‘floating sanctuary’.

‘it is a big difficulty for the whole SAR community that we discuss a lot of things only “among ourselves”, have little open discussions with other actors, friends and comrades. Due to the constant criminalisation, but also the political pressure, we are often forced not to openly discuss important questions, which leads to them not even surfacing in a socio-political discussion. They remain in their own discussion spaces, are cut off and invisible’. (e-mail communication).

On 4 March, 2021, an Italian prosecutor issued a long-awaited indictment against 21 members of search-and-rescue NGOs and 3 organizations for aiding and abetting illegal immigration. The charge was part of an ongoing campaign to criminalize acts of assistance and solidarity with asylum seekers and migrants, including acts intended to rescue lives at sea ( Cusumano and Villa 2021 ). Indeed, in recent years, scholars, as well as UN actors and NGOs, have responded with a counterattack, stressing unequivocal support with such rescuers, and countering the ‘smuggling’ narrative ( Mann 2020 ; Mezzadra 2020 ).

While we believe such scholarship and advocacy is extremely important, the purpose of this essay is different. The criminal-law discourse surrounding search and rescue (SAR) at sea has chilled honest conversation about the real ethical dilemmas that the practice involves. Focusing exclusively on criminalization can prevent us from asking an important question: What, if any, can be the adverse byproducts of rescuing life at sea? This question, which, as will become apparent, rescuers have long asked themselves, draws upon a tradition of critical humanitarianism, in which critique goes hand in hand with action and its assessment in real-world rather than ideal terms ( Brauman 2012 ; Kennedy 2005 ).

Some might argue that these questions are better left unasked. Debating the possible adverse byproducts of rescuing life at sea is likely to cause major political harm. However careful it is conducted, they might say, such an endeavor will nevertheless prove a godsend to those seeking academic backing for NGOs’ criminalization.

We disagree with this position. Instead, we believe that a candid debate about the ethical challenges involved in SAR is crucial for both academic and political reasons. If SAR advocates and activists seek to deny the existence of the dilemmas, they will miss out on the opportunity to make their voices heard and their perspectives acknowledged. The political debate about the ethical dilemmas of SAR is already going on. The question is who can frame it and whose opinions and experiences inform it. By interviewing members of SAR staff anonymously, we aim to offer a place for reflection on ethical dilemmas where activists are able to articulate the dilemmas from their situated perspective, and help shape the nature of the debate.

We thus make a concerted effort to understand the dilemmas involved in SAR as seen from the perspective of rescuers . By adopting such a phenomenological perspective, we have deliberately chosen not to engage in our own normative analysis of the dilemmas involved in SAR. Instead, our aim is two-fold. The first is empirical and analytical. It involves a mapping exercise, serving as a phenomenology of ethical experience. Here, we seek to identify the key ethical dilemmas faced by rescuers at sea. The article sheds light on the complexity and nuance of the ethical landscape of maritime rescue, revealing an intricate web of interactions acknowledged by rescuers as posing ethical challenges.

The second aim is to offer a conceptual framework for what it is that SAR NGOs are, in fact, doing. We contextualize their actions within the larger terrain of ‘border externalization’, in which states have moved enforcement activities to extraterritorial zones, where human rights law ostensibly does not apply ( Benhabib 2020 ; Giuffré and Moreno-Lax 2019 ; Shachar 2020 ). We thus argue that the set of norms underlying practices developed by SAR NGOs amounts to a strategy of counter-externalization. The ideal here is that a window of opportunity can be created at sea, where human rights or international law protections more broadly apply, but enforcement powers of states are suspended ( Mégret 2021 ). By utilizing these legal gray zones to the benefit of migrants, rescuers effectively turn extraterritorial zones from spaces of lawlessness into spaces of resistance. The rescue ship thus becomes a ‘floating sanctuary’.

Our empirical data are composed of 25 semi-structured qualitative interviews conducted with 22 rescuers who have been involved in SAR operations at both the operational and planning levels. The interviews were sometimes complemented by personal e-mail communication and exchange of primary documents. Almost all of our interviewees held positions of responsibility, such as head of mission, operations coordinator, SAR coordinator, public spokesperson, and cultural mediator. At least six of our interviewees were either co-founders or members of the board of their respective organizations. None of our interviewees were contracted seafarers or short-term volunteers; all had a professional bond to their organizations and longer-term commitment to SAR.

Besides their function within the NGO, several other factors may impact rescuers’ experiences and how they make sense of it—such as the timing of activity at sea; whether the rescuers are active primarily on land, at sea, or in the air/over the phone; whether they have experience in multiple NGOs or only in one; the size and professional ethics of their NGO, etc. To the extent that we felt that it was possible to do so without endangering the anonymity of our respondents, we have provided information on these features in Table 1 and when introducing the citations in the text.

List of interviews

In accordance with the aims of the article, we adopted a phenomenological approach to interviewing ( Seidman 2019 ). We asked participants to reconstruct and reflect on their lived experiences and sought to understand the meaning they made of those experiences from the point of view of their own subjective understandings ( Schutz 1967 ). We proceeded first through our own contacts, then by ‘purposeful selection’ ( Maxwell 2013 ; Seidman 2019 ). Although all respondents answered to our questions in an individual capacity, it was important to include people from different organizations in our sample to ensure a plurality of experiences. According to the latest list published by the Fundamental Rights Agency of the European Union, there were 17 different NGOs conducting SAR operations in the Mediterranean (sea and air) between 2016 and 15 December 2020. Of these, 14 are present in our sample. 1 Some respondents belonged to the more ‘humanitarian’ organizations, others to the more ‘solidaristic’ ones. This often-reiterated division highlights the level of willingness to directly challenge state power and to articulate a political vision beyond the humanitarian one, which are stronger in solidaristic organizations ( Cuttitta 2018 ). The activism of all interviewees focuses on the mid-Mediterranean space between Libya, Sicily, and Malta, as well as in the Aegean.

Given the backdrop of criminalization, we have decided to anonymize respondent’s identities and organizational affiliation as well. While this requires a level or generality we would not otherwise choose, we felt that it was necessary as a matter of research ethics in order to protect our sources. All interviewees have been instructed about the purpose of the study and the intended use of the data and have signed a consent form. In addition, we have circulated the draft to all interviewees and given them the opportunity to flag to us any passages of the text that they considered to be problematic. All interviewees were informed of their right to withdraw from the study at any time.

The article proceeds in five sections. After this introduction, Section 2 provides an analytical framework for understanding the ethical dilemmas that rescue staff confront. At the heart of their dilemmas is a bifurcation between the urgency of the imperative to rescue those who are at risk of drowning, and a consequentialist analysis of rescue operations. This contrast may seem all-too familiar from other humanitarian contexts ( Bell and Carens 2004 ; Halley et al. 2018 ; Weber 2004 ). But within the context of sea rescue it has an interesting temporal and spatial structure, which we lay bare. Sections 3–6 move to a close reading of the different components of this structure, informed and illustrated by our interview material. Section 7 concludes by interpreting the practices of SAR organizations as a form of sanctuary.

How did our interviewees perceive the ethical dilemmas of SAR? As will become clear in the following sections, SAR rescuers are not a homogeneous group, and their perspectives and responses vary considerably. Nevertheless, the basic structure of the dilemma many rescuers face is the same. It is a dilemma between the ethical imperative to rescue and the possible unintended political consequences of the act of rescuing.

An often-repeated topos in our interviews framed the act of rescuing as an emergency response to an already occurring catastrophe. The act of rescue is based on an ethical imperative to save people who are at an imminent risk of drowning, and that imperative takes precedence over all other considerations. Even though SAR activism has grown increasingly organized, funded, and to some extent bureaucratized over recent years, rescue itself retains at its core a grain of ‘good Samaritanism’: one individual helping another simply because the latter is in distress. Confronted with the drowning person, so the narrative goes, there is no choice to make and there is no dilemma. One must simply lend a helping hand. The act is a response to a command of the conscience .

However, it is not always possible to separate the event of rescue from whatever it was that led to it and from whatever occurs afterwards. The singular ethical moment of rescue can always overflow and be informed by its surrounding context of political and economic power relations. ‘There is always a chain ’, as one interviewee put it felicitously, ‘in which the moment of rescue is just one link’ (Interview 1). This chain connects the former domicile of migrants and asylum seekers (often in a region of Africa or the Middle East), transit experiences and countries along the way, the maritime journey, and further transit and destination countries in Europe. Rescuers know that the conditions of possibility for the migrants’ and asylum seekers’ journeys depend on many other actors, whose actions may be questionable on ethical or moral grounds. Migration networks often overlap or intertwine with criminal and trafficking networks ( Campana 2018 ), as well as with abusive state practices, both territorial and exterritorial ( Dastyari and Hirsch 2019 ). And so, it is impossible to assess what happens during rescue without addressing how that event is chained to others along the way.

To rescuers, ‘the chain’ and ‘the command’ present different kinds of ethical choices. On the one hand, there is a large and potentially global infrastructure for movement, in which political and economic interests of all kinds play a major role. When thinking of the chain, ethical considerations appear as questions— should we do x or should we do y ? On the other hand, an unseaworthy vessel at sea presents a command of conscience that is qualitatively different. Such a command rests on the individual value of every human life. Rather than presenting itself as a question, it presents itself as an imperative: we must do x . Here, rescue is experienced as inherently valuable—it is pursued for its own sake and not to achieve other longer-term political goals. The emerging set of norms that has gradually crystalized among diverse SAR organizations is largely about how to make these two different registers of judgment sit together. Their relationships are uneasy.

Whereas the moment of rescue is at the center of focus for rescues, it is tied by two separate ‘chains’. One leads back to the port of departure, and from there all the way to a migrant’s home (before she departed). A second chain leads forward to the sought-after destination. Think of the migrant vessel as an object at sea, tied by the two chains to the two different coasts of the Mediterranean. In mid-Mediterranean migration, the first is tied to Libya, the second to Italy (or Malta). The first connects to a territory of danger, and the second to a territory of relative safety. Figure 1 helps illustrate this basic structure.

The chain and the command.

The chain and the command.

The ethical questions develop when the rescuers find themselves having to engage with either chain. An investment in Chain 1 opens the question of relationships with non-European authorities, Libyan or other, as well as with non-state actors, including smuggling and trafficking networks. An investment in Chain 2, on the other hand, raises dilemmas concerning relationships with European forces, and perhaps with criminal networks on the European side, European publics, and at times funders. The journey along the line, from left to right, is a temporal progression along the migration route. But the figure also illustrates a spatial distribution of moral experience. By way of rough generalization, the form of the question is associated with land and airspace, whereas the form of the imperative is associated with the sea.

Which specific ethical questions are important to rescuers? The danger of complicity in a criminal system of migrant exploitation by smugglers is one side of the coin. But rescuers are often even more worried by the potential of becoming complicit in abusive practices and unjust policies of European states. These two faces of the quandary take on very different shapes in rescuers’ real-life encounters. At a general level, however, they are experienced in similar ways: as the fear of dirtying their own hands and becoming part of a vicious scheme. The viciousness of smugglers and traffickers is to exploit migrants for profit. The viciousness of European state authorities is to impose violence on asylum seekers and migrants. Both can also be seen as exploiting the role of SAR NGOs in order to pursue their goals.

The danger of becoming imbricated in the exploitation and violence associated with chains 1 and 2 is particularly acute for those rescuers operating from a distance. In recent years, SAR NGOs have started complementing their naval missions with airborne operations aimed at monitoring the Mediterranean. These airborne operations locate distress cases, identify the nearest rescue assets, communicate with different actors to help coordinate a rescue, and report on human rights violations happening at sea. Currently Sea-Watch operates two monitoring aircrafts together with the Swiss Humanitarian Pilots Initiative, the Moonbird and the Seabird. In addition, other NGOs such as Alarm Phone also operate from a distance. Like with airborne operations, their mission is not to rescue but to monitor, coordinate, and bear witness.

Members of these missions face a very peculiar situation: their aim is to save lives, but they have no rescuing capabilities. When they receive a distress call or spot a vessel in distress, they cannot immediately initiate rescue. They cannot directly respond to the moral imperative of the command. Instead, they must decide how to coordinate a rescue to increase its chances of success, while trying to minimize cooptation by both sides of the chain. For them, it is impossible to isolate the moment of rescue from the wider political context. Instead, they must make assessments, define thresholds, and ultimately make difficult ethical and legal choices about which information to share. Theirs is the disembodied power of knowledge, not the embodied power of immediate physical action. We call their perspective the bird’s-eye view .

we have only very limited knowledge of how things work in Libya, and things change very quickly. How should I know if a person is himself part of a criminal network, or just somebody who is being paid or forced to do something by somebody else who is part of a criminal network? The power hierarchies are very difficult to tell. (Interview 7)

If there is any communication between rescuers and smugglers before the situation of distress, state authorities in Europe see this as an indication of collusion. In addition, the idea of transfers happening at sea has been used to delegitimize the work of rescuers, who are accused of functioning like ‘taxis’ for smugglers ( Allsopp, Vosyliūtė and Brenda Smialowski 2021 ). Communication with such individuals, or even with would-be migrants and asylum seekers, may constitute an important part of chain 1. Once such communication is established, the situation of distress at sea may seem more planned and organized, and not already-occurring independently of SAR operations. And if that is the case, it may be difficult to cabin SAR as an urgent imperative, no questions asked. The appropriateness of SAR may look to some viewers more like an immigration policy question.

I do not know anything besides that there was an alert by somebody—whether it be Alarm Phone, or airborne operations, or the authorities, or another ship, or even Frontex—that there is a boat in distress. As somebody who is on the boat, I don’t want to know more . And this is a conscious choice . That’s all I knew and that is by design. To protect me and to protect people on the boat. Otherwise you can do harm to yourself and to the people you are rescuing. [emphases added]. (Interview 1)

By calling this attitude ‘willful ignorance’, we are not prejudging it as morally objectionable. As the sociology of ignorance has shown, not knowing can often be a very powerful tool for managing risks ( McGoey 2012 ). Hence, one way to interpret our interviewee’s attitude is as a legal technology to protect rescuers from prosecution. However, in the quotation above, the unwillingness to know more does not simply appear to be a ‘legal technology’; it is also an ‘ethical technology’. Apparently, by not knowing the details of communication she may better focus on what she believes is her major role, that is, to rescue. She is relieved of distractions that may make her over-think certain rescue operations, in a way that can hinder saving lives as well as larger emancipatory aims.

The second response is to question the assumption that rescue is only legitimate if accidental. As the same respondent told us: ‘It’s not called “find and rescue”, it is “search and rescue”. Why are we only legitimate when we happen to be floating around?’ In other humanitarian emergency situations, she said, states would be patrolling the border hoping to find people in need of assistance. In the Mediterranean this is different because ‘the situation in the Mediterranean is not acknowledged, not desired and not legitimized as an emergency’ (Interview 1).

This second type of response seeks to deconstruct the notion that communication implies collusion. The accusation that NGOs are carrying out ‘transfers at sea’ implies that there is no real emergency, no real risk of drowning. But our interviewees stressed that knowledge about the location of a migrant boat does not eliminate the risk of shipwreck. Migrant boats are all unseaworthy and can sink at any time, they argued, even in the middle of a rescue (Interviews 1 and 4). The goal of this response is thus to show that the accusations levied against rescuers are based on unrealistic premises about the real-life circumstances they face. Another goal is to challenge the notion that communication is enough to become a morally tainted link in the ‘chain’. According to this view, by merely communicating with persons in need of rescue to help rescue them, one does not become implicated in the upstream exploitation and violence that brought the person to sea in the first place.

The question of communication is a very complicated one because of how things work at sea. If you are at sea and somebody talks to you, you respond. If someone approaches you and says: ‘there is a boat’, what do you do? This is exactly the situation that the authorities criminalize, but what should you do? Do you not go there? Or if someone comes to you and says, ‘there are people dehydrating over there, give us water’, you give water. What else should you do? Once they came to us with a pregnant woman and a two-year-old child and asked us to transfer them to our boat. This is exactly the situation that European states criminalize because it is a transfer at sea, but what should you do, should you tell them, ‘no we don’t take this screaming women and child, go back to the boat and we will come in one hour.’ What about your criminal responsibility if something happens to that child and to that woman? (Interview 4)

Nevertheless, even regarding these cases, it is difficult for rescuers to exactly assess who they are interacting with. In earlier years, for example, it was common that unidentified men in fast wooden boats would come to the rescue scene, or be there waiting from the onset, in order to take the engine of the flimsy migrant boat with them. In the media, these were often presumed to be smugglers. Images of such bystanders detachedly observing a rescue have been widely used to delegitimize the work of SAR NGOs, and as purportedly incriminating material in criminal proceedings for collusion with smugglers. But some rescuers prefer to call these men ‘engine fishers’, a terminology that suspends judgment on the role of these individuals in the chain of exploitation. As our interviewees explained, for them it is impossible to know what the true role of these people is. Are they part of a criminal smuggling network? Are they fishermen looking for a source of extra income (e.g. by selling engines)? Have they been forced by smugglers to perform this task of collecting engines, and are therefore themselves exploited? Any of these scenarios could be true. Rescuers therefore feel compelled to adopt a kind of methodological presumption of innocence, calling these people by what they do: they pull engines from the water, hence they are ‘engine fishers’ (Interviews 4 and 7).

Gradually moving to more robust links to the chain that may tie the rescue vessel to questionable practice, consider that some rescuees have been trafficked for sexual exploitation. When this is the case, the links on the victim’s way from their domicile to a European destination may largely be made of instances of rape, torture, and embezzlement ( Al-Dayel, Anfinson and Anfinson 2021 ). Our interviewees were aware of this reality, which becomes most clearly observable in instances when a man says that he is married to a certain woman, but the woman denies such a relationship (Interviews 1, 2, 4, 7–9, and 11). In terms of the analysis of links in a chain, this may mean that one problematic link—the man—is present on board. But here too, the exact role the man plays within the chain of exploitation is unclear. He may be on board for a fee, or he may be playing this role in return for a free journey in earlier legs of the trail. The fact that he is momentarily serving a trafficking network does not in itself mean that he is not legitimately seeking asylum.

We are not responsible for knowing whether people were trafficked or not. If somebody tells us that they have been trafficked or tortured, we can make a proper referral. But the limits of what we can do is a referral. We are not on land. There are other organizations who can help. We need to hand people over to the next leg of the journey. There needs to be trust. There needs to be a limit, or a boundary, and you need to set your remit as an NGO. (Interview 1) We always separate men from women and children. No man is allowed in the safe place. But there can always be the case that someone accuses someone else of being a trafficker. We are not police enforcement and will not do the enforcement part. We will ask the accuser what we can do in terms of safety. We can refer them to protection and potentially help them disembark separately. But to do more on board is impossible. We are not really trained for that. (Interview 8)

In all these instances, opening the isolated space of the ship to the far-reaching chain means a risk of inadvertently becoming part of a vicious scheme. There seems, however, to be a lack of agreement, or perhaps a lack of openness, on the extent to which such complicity is a real possibility. Some of our interviewees denied it altogether, saying that it is ‘a constructed dilemma’ (Interview 2) or ‘no dilemma at all’ (Interviews 1, 5, and 6). According to this view, just by being at sea and helping somebody in emergency, one is not complicit with that person’s exploitation. An ambulance or person providing care to the victim of a car accident is not responsible for another’s negligent driving (Interviews 6 and 11).

Moreover, when it comes to allegations of constituting a ‘pull factor’, rescuers pointed out that this is a narrative that obscures the real drivers of migration, which are systemic in nature. As one interviewee said: ‘It is not a couple of ships that are going to change migration flows from Africa to Europe. The answer to this question is not to be found at sea, unfortunately’ (Interview 6). Another interviewee explained that scholarship has disproved, time and time again, the narrative about ‘pull factors’ (Interview 15). Indeed, available academic research suggests that NGOs have not served as a pull factor ( Cusumano and Villa 2021 ; Heller and Pezzani 2017 ). It shows that, even if some of their operations might have occasionally helped human smugglers, their cumulative effect has reduced deaths at sea without encouraging departures. For some our interviewees, the fact that NGOs do not seem to have served as a pull factor is sufficient to eliminate the dilemma.

Yet other interviewees did acknowledge the existence of a potential connection between the command and the chain in one way or another. They conveyed how smugglers react to their presence by adapting their strategies. In the words of one respondent: ‘We need to live with that. We are part of a chain. The trafficker, smugglers, flight helpers—whatever you want to call them—they know about our existence, and they are not stupid. It is a pervert system’ (Interview 4). Another interviewee mentioned rumors that smugglers charge higher prices when there are SAR ships at sea, but added: ‘they also charge more when there is good weather’ (Interview 5). He compared the rescuers’ role with that of drug substitution policy, which do not combat the addiction, but manage to do away with the violence and criminality associated with drug consumption.

The ethical dilemmas of chain 1—especially the risk of colluding with smugglers and traffickers—are somewhat more familiar, though perhaps in caricatured form, to European publics. They have been fueled by anti-migrant sentiments and by media hungry for headlines. The ethical dilemmas of Chain 2, more salient to many of the rescuers we spoke to, are perhaps less familiar.

For many interviewees, complicity with exploitative practices by smugglers was secondary to concerns about assisting European states in upholding an unjust or inhuman border regime. This concern presents itself in many ways. One is a mirror image of the notion that by their presence NGOs might be fueling or facilitating the migrant smuggling business. With regards to abusive state practices, some members of rescue NGOs expressed fears that their mere presence might be indirectly benefiting European states in maintaining an abusive system ( Cusumano and Pattison 2018 ). Some interviewees detailed concerns that the presence of NGOs releases states of their obligations: ‘Even if they are fighting us, they still rely on us. The NGOs provide the veneer that at least something is being done’ (Interview 4).

Chain 2 becomes relevant, for example, when SAR NGOs must comply with spurious regulations that they disagree with. Such controversial rules were established when, in 2017, Italy promulgated an EU-sponsored SAR ‘code of conduct’. The document made permission for NGO vessels to disembark migrants in Italian ports conditional on collaborating in the fight against smugglers and accepting the presence of law enforcement personnel on board ( Cusumano 2019 ). Most NGOs active in the Central Mediterranean signed the code. But many resented what they saw as an effort to enlist them into becoming an extended arm of the authorities.

They’ll ask you how many asylum seekers there are, etc. but I don’t agree with these categories. So we try to find out as little as possible. We only ask the people what we need to know in order to tell the authorities. Otherwise, what they want to tell you, they tell you. You don’t ask questions. (Interview 1)

The ethical questions discussed so far refer to indirect effects of rescuers’ actions in terms of becoming ‘extended arms’ of the authorities—through NGO’s unintended role in upholding policies of border securitization, migrant selectivity, and differential treatment. There are, however, certain instances, where NGO members may feel that they are not only being abused but also complicit with abusive state practices. Thus, interviewees told us about cases where they had been witnesses to state authorities using violence against migrants, or to military ships denying rescue to migrants in distress—but felt compelled to remain silent (Interviews 3 and 5). They did so for fear of sanctions, or to buy themselves more leverage in terms of being allowed to carry out their activities.

All these decisions are extremely controversial inside NGOs and accompanied by difficult considerations (see Dadusc and Mudu 2020 ). They generate ‘deep disagreements’ within the NGO community and trigger discussions about the ultimate goals of the movement and ‘the kind of politics that SAR NGOs ought to be pursuing’ (Interview 14). ‘We had a very strong debate internally on whether we should report on violence and try to keep authorities accountable. Being a witness to these things without reporting means being a part of them. We considered developing an evidence-gathering protocol. But then we consulted a criminal lawyer and he said that if we did that we could be accused of conspiracy’ (Interview 3). Another interviewee had similar doubts: ‘Are we part of the state system or not? That is the ethical question. But we are not doing this to help the state. We are helping the people. If we are not there, no one will be there. At the end our answer is always the same: we need to comply in order to be able to keep on doing this [humanitarian SAR operations]’ (Interview 5).

If rescuers do not act upon the humanitarian imperative to save lives in the face of the emergency, they act against their principles. But if they do act, they may end up implicated in wrongs committed by exploitative migration networks, or by states. How do SAR NGOs respond to this dilemma? Through standard operating procedures and internal codes of conduct reflecting a deep-seated set of cultural norms, they try to isolate the rescue vessel as much as possible from what happens both before rescue and after disembarkation.

Perhaps the most straightforward way to see the work of insulation is in its ‘negative’ embodiments, that is, in rescuers’ attempts to actively push the intervention of the state out of their way. Under the law of the sea, the vessel is a highly regulated environment. Generating an ethically isolatable environment does not mean eschewing such regulation. Rescue teams are aware that states attempt to intervene and eliminate their autonomy by reference to maritime safety regulations and may therefore be very cognizant of them. But they may still try to stay rather autonomous, sometimes by use of ‘flags of convenience’; and in other times by choices of where and how to register—whether as recreational vessel or otherwise (see e.g. Schatz and Endemann 2019 ).

Contrary to what the use of such flags may suggest, this negative removal from the state’s reach is not merely a matter of ‘convenience’. It is also an ethical matter. Thus, for example, rescuers may be very strict in not letting armed agents of the state board their ship, even if they otherwise agree to an inspection (Interview 5). The weapon symbolizes a possibility of violent disembarkation of rescuees and may suggest to them the potential of state violence. Carving out spaces free of armed state agents of course has a long history within universities, hospitals, and other institutions that may be compared with the rescue vessel. Flags of convenience have a bad reputation, often standing for attempts to eschew statist rule of law; but when the state is a major part of a vicious scheme, autonomy from it may be perceived as upholding international law or higher ethical standards.

Beyond such negative or protective measures directed at the state, there are also positive aspects to how the experience of command is constructed. Some are discursive. One that lies between the negative and the positive is the practice of some NGOs—most notably Sea-Watch—of calling rescued migrants ‘guests’. On its negative side, this label seeks to shake away categories of immigration law. ‘In this space’, told us one interviewee, ‘we do not have asylum seekers or refugees, because that would also mean that we would have people who are not in that group, and we also do not have migrants. We never call them anything but people or guests’ (Interview 1). On its positive side, the term guest suggests a kind of hospitality that implies that certain questions not be asked, but also that we give them a shelter and nourishment ( Derrida and Dufourmantelle 2000 ; Levinas and Lingis 1969 ).

We avoid talking about asylum seekers. That is already political. We call them people in distress at sea. I don’t know if they are tourists, survivors, or whatever. I don’t know, this is the job of the authorities, they need to protect the people. To us, talking about ‘migrants’ in the Mediterranean is already politicizing the situation. (…) It [this attitude] is not just playing dumb. Modesty is not part of the humanitarian principles, but is should be. If you know too much, you get crazy. It’s already a big job to rescue and bring people to a place of safety. We need to know some things and read, but ultimately we need to focus on rescue. It’s not only a posture or tactic of being very neutral and getting my way out. It is also a proactive position of modesty and transparency. (Interview 20)

Beyond discursive strategies, NGOs also have internal policies and practices that seek to give precedence to the command. For example, internal policies forbid crew members to inquire into the personal life histories of rescuees or to take pictures. They also establish procedures to deal with specific vulnerabilities if these are pointed out by the migrants themselves, but without alerting law enforcement authorities. Vulnerabilities are thus experienced as generating interpersonal obligations to those who suffer from them. At the same time, there is a real hesitation about framing these obligations as addressed to the state, or in the bureaucratized vocabularies of criminal or asylum law, in which they immediately also become instruments of potential exclusion.

Once we had two young people who fought with one another, and one of them strangled the other until he was unconscious. Also there, we tried to solve the situation through mediation. (…) In part, this is a pragmatic decision, in part an ethical one. As the head of mission, I am responsible for the collective. I cannot tolerate that someone kills somebody else. I cannot tolerate that the food is wrongly distributed. I cannot tolerate that there are fights on board. Although I am a humanitarian, in these cases I usually decide for hierarchy. But only so long as I can bear it [ethically]. My threshold is, for example, that I do not want to be responsible for turning somebody in to law enforcement. I don’t say that on board, but nevertheless it is so. Given everything that these people have endured, what I would not do is to call Malta and say: ‘these two people have tried to put fire on my ship’. That, I wouldn’t do. I know that this makes me inconsistent. But that’s the way it is. I would not deliver them to law enforcement authorities. I would try to avoid that. And if the captain wanted to do that, I would try to convince him otherwise. (Interview 18)

The desire to avoid law enforcement as much as possible reflects yet again the aspiration to isolate the space of the ship, legally and materially. The rescue ship functions as a ‘human rights ex-territory’, a space where the humanitarian imperative rules, where human rights laws apply but state power is held at bay—at least as long as persons on board are not put in dire risk.

The structure of the chain and the command assumes a certain spatial division between land and sea that does not completely capture the experiences of all SAR rescuers. Two aspects of the SAR activity in particular escape this dichotomy. One is airborne surveillance, which in recent years has become an important part of SAR in the Mediterranean. Another is communication by satellite phone, as carried out by Alarm Phone. Alarm Phone is a transnational activist network that functions as a ‘hotline’ that anyone can call to make a boat’s location known and ask for rescue. It runs exclusively on volunteers, builds coalitions with activists in the Global South, and is operative in all regions of the Mediterranean ( Stierl 2016 ). When migrants in distress are in possession of a satellite phone, they can directly call Alarm Phone from the sea. Alarm Phone members then offer information, advice, and the possibility of raising public alarm, sometimes discussing what steps to take together with the migrants themselves—a crucial characteristic that differentiates this organization from other NGOs.

Alarm Phone and airborne NGOs are key actors in the SAR process and rescue ships collaborate with them actively. Think of these two aspects as ‘the birds’ eye view’. Whether by use of planes or satellite phones, these aspects of SAR flutter above the schematic reconstruction of experience in Fig. 1 . From this position certain epistemic limitations are no longer in place. It is easier to know more. At the same time, the possibilities for independent action are severely limited. Rescue can only be pursued by relaying information onward—to states, merchant vessels, or NGO vessels.

When a ‘spotter’ hovers above the Mediterranean Sea, for example, she or he have longer temporal access to the journey and can potentially observe a vessel long before it is accessed by any other vessel capable to assist (Interviews 7 and 9). When and whether to trigger rescue may thus become a planned decision, rather than an ethical imperative of here and now. Similarly, when Alarm Phone operates an emergency number for migrants in distress to dial to, the call can be received at different stages of the journey. It may or may not be interpreted as an immediate distress case, which will impact the response. At stake is not only the protection of life, but also access to sought-after migration destinations and opportunities for dignified livelihoods (Interview 15). Particularly for organizations on the more ‘solidaristic’ side, the relevant judgment call is particularly complex. It must weigh the probability of gaining access to a safe port against the probability of drowning or refoulement .

On a more general level, from the birds’ eye view it appears nearly impossible to insulate the chain from the command. From this position , therefore, activists experience something much more resemblant of an unabated chain. Ethical quandaries that activists located at sea aim to avoid are consequently uploaded to the flying shoulders of those providing surveillance or communication. But the latter are more amenable to becoming the long arms of states. When they share information with states, their point of view can end up facilitating preemptory rescue operations by Libyan or other non-European forces, which ends up returning migrants to where they came from, blocking access to asylum, and possibly risking ill-treatment there. Such ‘pullbacks’ are one especially problematic aspect of the externalization of border control, which scholars have called ‘contactless control’ or ‘refoulement by proxy’ ( Giuffré and Moreno-Lax 2019 ; Heller and Pezzani 2016 ; Moreno-Lax 2018 ; Pijnenburg 2020 ).

At the center of the dilemma faced by airborne and telephone operations is a double bind that is a quintessential experience of SAR activity from the birds’ eye view. Because they are critical for saving lives and granting access to asylum and opportunities, members of NGOs performing these functions are often accused of complicity with the ‘business model of smugglers’. This is particularly true of those actors engaging in communication by phone with non-state actors outside of Europe. Yet, because they have full knowledge and can alert the authorities, the birds’ eye infrastructure has also been incredibly important for states, including in their questionable activities. They have enabled pullbacks, possibly contributing to violations of the principle of non-refoulement. In both cases, the issue of communication is key. Communication with migrant networks allows rescuers to join the migrant ‘underground railroad’ ( Heller, Pezzani and Stierl 2019 ; Stierl 2020 ): networks that migrants have established for their own empowerment and liberation. Communication with the authorities is a necessary condition for rescuers to be able to fulfill their humanitarian mission of saving lives.

The birds’ eye view, and especially Alarm Phone activity, is highly contested both outside and within the SAR community (Interviews 9, 12, and 15). Here, the command is closest to entirely collapsing into an unhindered chain. For some activists all that really remains is a political struggle for freedom of movement and liberation, and against it, with little room for good Samaritanism. For others, this amounts to a betrayal of the key principles of humanitarianism and places the legitimacy of the whole SAR movement at risk. As one interviewee put it, by making the whole enterprise about freedom of movement rather than saving lives, political NGOs are ‘de-urgentifying’ the narrative. In his view, they are also undermining the normative justification for their actions before public opinion and distancing themselves from the legal basis that enables a claim to disembarkation (Interview 12). Yet, the situation at sea -- in which the disconnect between chain and command becomes possible -- arguably depends on the entirely different conditions in which the birds’ eye activists work. Without the plane and especially the phone, the impact of SAR activities would be much more limited.

Over the last three decades or so, a vast literature on ‘externalization’ has documented and analyzed the ways in which states have established exterritorial border controls ( Frelick, Kysel and Podkul 2016 ; Gammeltoft-Hansen 2011 ; Ghezelbash 2020 ; Spijkerboer 2018 ). As early as 2006, Gibney identified the creation of ‘a thousand little Guantanamos’, spaces where states act free from the constraints imposed on them by courts, international and domestic law, human rights groups, and the public at large ( Gibney 2006 ). Mediterranean migration routes specifically have been major sites of externalization efforts for the EU and its member states, creating ‘maritime legal black holes’ ( Mann 2018 ).

Adding to these earlier analyses, Benhabib (2020) highlights the apparent paradox that externalization strategies actually serve to reinvent territorial sovereignty: because they generate ‘a dual movement of deterritorialization and territorialization’ that threatens the applicability of the 1951 Convention. In a recent essay, Shachar (2020 , pp.73–96) suggests two strategies to counter the threat of this dual movement. First, extending jurisdiction to where control is exercised by making human rights and constitutional provisions apply irrespective of the location of border control activities. Second, relaxing the connection between accessing territory and seeking asylum so that protection can be sought and granted extraterritorially.

SAR NGOs enact a third normative response to the threats of state-led deterritorialization tactics. They seek to create a different kind of deterritorialization, one that establishes spaces of resistance against state sovereignty. By adopting internal regulations that suspend as much as possible the applicability of criminal and migration laws, rescuers seek to transform the ship into a floating sanctuary.

To function as a sanctuary, rescue vessels must be able to shield themselves from responsibility for enforcing state’s laws. The way to do so is through the technique of willful blindness—akin to the enactment of internal ‘firewall policies’ ( Carens 2013 )—aimed at ensuring that only those vulnerabilities are known that can be addressed from a humanitarian (not criminal) perspective. It is an exceptional space, but unlike Agamben’s (1998) spaces of exception, the camp or the zone d’attentes , it is generated by civil society actors rather than by sovereign decree. To be sure, the rescue ship is a highly regulated environment. From a legal perspective, the ship remains under the jurisdiction of its flag state and sometimes under other overlapping state jurisdictions as well. But many of the internal rules and standardized procedures established by rescuers can be read as attempts to create a state of exception where national immigration and criminal laws are temporarily suspended. Instead, rescuers claim to be enforcing the ‘higher law’—international law—where states fail to uphold it ( Mégret 2021 ).

Rescue ships function in a similar way as sanctuaries in that they constitute themselves as spaces where migration categories do not apply and where, for a limited period of time, every person is entitled to stay under a condition of temporary amnesty (on sanctuary, see e.g. Lasch et al. 2018 ; Lippert and Rehaag 2014 ; Marfleet 2011 ; Mourão Permoser 2021 ). To say that the rescue ship functions as a sanctuary is not to say that living conditions within it are ideal. This, in fact, has never been a feature of sanctuaries. To the contrary, historically the amnesty provided by sanctuaries has always represented a temporary, tenuous, and often torturous condition. A fugitive who took refuge in a medieval church, for example, ‘might be required to pay a fine, forfeit his goods, perform penance, or go into exile, but almost without exception his body and his life were to be preserved’ ( Shoemaker 2011 , p. ix).

The sanctuary is not an ideal state of affairs, and it is also not a solution capable of bringing an end to injustice for all persons in all places. Also in that sense sanctuary is and remains always a state of exception. But it is also a state of righteousness: A space where a wrongdoing is corrected, where ‘the higher law’ is implemented, and where the spirit of the law is protected and upheld against undue attempts to dilute or deform it. Ideally, the rescue ship seeks to eliminate its own role as sanctuary. If conditions are favorable, it will be granted debarkation as quickly as possible. This too does not remove it from the vaster tradition of sanctuary. When deliverance comes, all sanctuaries will no longer be needed and will thus be eliminated.

What role does the birds’ eye view serve in this construction of floating sanctuaries? As explained above, from this perspective the phenomenology of the chain and the command no longer holds. There is a continuous chain of political and economic power, as well as physical violence. The question where this chain stops, for the sake of the moral imperative to rescue, becomes subject to temporal and spatial planning—now decoupled from the ability to act or intervene directly. This perspective is crucial for such floating sanctuaries to be effective.

This vantage point offers an insight for scholars aiming to understand sanctuaries beyond the specific context of maritime space. All sanctuaries exist only in the context of a complicated environment of larger political and economic power. The birds’ eye vantage point in the context of sanctuaries at sea requires close attention to the technologies and form of civil society and state engagements in the larger environments that make specific sanctuary arrangements possible. It raises our attention as researchers to the fact that sanctuaries do not simply appear as self-constituting islands. If they are indeed ‘islands’ in which power functions differently, that is only due to a myriad of strategies and decisions that precede them.

Our greatest dept and most heartfelt gratitude go to all the SAR rescuers and activists who have so generously shared their knowledge and experiences with us. In addition, for their helpful feedback on earlier drafts, we would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers as well Rainer Bauböck, Benjamin Boudou, Joseph Carens, Omri Grinberg, Sonia Fleury, Matthew Hoye, David Owen, Moria Paz, Martin Ruhs, Martin Senn, Maurice Stierl, and Meropi Tzanetakis. This article was presented at the workshop on ‘The Ethics of Migration Policy Dilemmas’ of the European University Institute, at the STS Migtec Circle, at the TrafLab workshop at Tel Aviv University, and at the departmental seminar of the Department of Political Science of the University of Innsbruck. We would also like to thank the participants in these forums for their comments and suggestions.

This work was supported in whole, or in part, by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) [‘Migration as Morality Politics’, Grant V 743-G].

Conflict of interest statement . None declared.

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Command Management: Emergency and Search and Rescue Essay

The role of osc.

An On-Scene Coordinator (OSC) is a person, a ship, or an aircraft in charge of a rescue mission. Marine emergencies require collaboration and effective communication systems to ensure the crew and the vessels are rescued. A Marine Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) is a designated coordination center that acts as a search, rescue, and contact region during marine emergencies (Andreassen et al., 2018). The closest and most convenient MRCC organizes a Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator (SMC) during an emergency. The SMC designates an OSC that works in different capacities to ensure a successful rescue mission.

OSC serves various duties like coordinating other scene facilities’ efforts, carrying the SAR plan from SMC, and changing and modifying the SAR plan relative to the on-scene situation demands (IAMSAR III, 2016). Moreover, the OSC provides timely weather reports, mission progress updates, actions taken, and any planned action with recommendations to the SMC. The OSC is also involved in record-keeping and takes the mission details like searched area, sightings, survivors’ details, and track spacing. During the search mission, SMC and OSC organize emergency medical services for the survivors. Therefore, OSC serves a crucial role in a search-rescue mission.

State, With Reasons, Which Vessel Would Be Best Suited to Act in This Capacity

A suitable vessel to act as OSC in the given scenario emergency would be the one that arrives at the scene first and with a sufficient workforce to conduct the rescue mission. Moreover, the OSC should have an effective communication system. The ‘Expedition’ vessel from Liberia would be the most suitable OSC since it arrived on the scene first and had an adequate workforce. The ship had a Master, six deck officers, seven engineers, an ETO, and thirty-one other crew who could organize and coordinate the mission. The rescuers could utilize the vessel’s hospital to offer emergency services to the survivors. Moreover, the availability of the six small crafts could be used to rescue the survivors from the water. Therefore vessel ‘Expedition’ was the most appropriate OSC since it had sufficient staffing and facilities suitable for the mission.

State, With Reasons, The Most appropriate Commence Search Time (CST)

CST calculation is dependable on various factors: number of involved vessels, search pattern used, speed, and positions of the participating search vessels. In this scenario, four vessels were involved, and the search pattern used was a parallel swap. CST is based on the ETA of the ship that arrives last on-scene if the vessels are likely to arrive within short intervals from each other. Meanwhile, if there is a significant arrival interval among the ship, the first vessel to arrive on-scene can start the search. If each vessel in the scenario proceeded at 05:27 ZT to the last known position, the earliest vessel, ‘MV Expedition,’ would arrive at 07:24 ZT and the latest at 07:36 ZT. Therefore, the most appropriate CST would be 07:36 ZT.

Construct a Plot for the Search Area and Calculate the Datum Position

When establishing a geographic reference or datum position, it is crucial to consider various factors according to IAMSAR: reported position and time of SAR incident, time intervals between the incident and SAR facilities arrival, among other factors (2016). The datum position is found by observing drift with two components: leeway and total water current. In the given scenario, persons in the water have no leeway, and the life raft stability and speed vary with or without drogue. Therefore, the datum position will be calculated as follows:

Datum Position = drift speed x time to CST

A life raft with no drogue (same calculations as the current), and then add the effect of the wind (using the table in IAMSAR III);

A chart or a plotting sheet from KLP can plot the data. Once the plot has been drawn up, the Datum Position is calculated by:

Compile an Initial Plan for the Search Using the Four Responding Vessels

The total search time for the given scenario would be the difference between the last vessel arrival time, 10:36 UT, and then sunset at the SAR scene, 21:01UT. Therefore, the total search time would be 10 hours 25 minutes. A table in IAMSARIII provides useful information based on persons or objects in water: meteorological conditions and weather correctional factors. There is 10nm of visibility, and based on a worst-case scenario of persons in the water, the track spacing would be 0.6nm. When weather factors are taken into account, 21kn wind, the 0.6nm would then have to be multiplied by 0.5nm to give a final track spacing of 0.3nm. The initial plan is:

  • Datum position is 43°17.8’ S 075° 28’ W
  • Responding vessels Number are 4
  • CST is 10:36 UT
  • Time available is 10hours 25minutes (CST until local sunset)
  • Search area per ship = 0.3 x 10.4 x 13.6
  • Total search area = 42.4 x 4
  • Search area radius = √169.7 ÷ 2
  • Diameter = 6.5 x 2 = 13nm
  • Number of tracks = 13 ÷ 0.3 = 43.3; therefore, estimated number is 44 tracks
  • Tracks to run parallel with drift approximately 010°T

The Action to be Taken by The OSC Should Any Vessel Sight an Object in The Water Which May be Relevant to the Search

Immediately.

The OSC should immediately provide a sitrep to SMC and MRCC. Moreover, the OSC should create a rescue plan to determine the most appropriate rescue method and direct the best-equipped facilities like the hospital and the six small crafts. The various factor should be considered when developing the rescue plan: survivors’ details, intervening meteorological conditions, current sea conditions, and SAR personnel risks. The survivors’ details include their number, location, disposition, conditions, and medical considerations.

Subsequently

Upon completion of the search mission, the OSC should inform the other vessels of the termination of the mission. The OSC should then inform the SMC of the search results and pass the various information, including survivors’ physical conditions, details of destination ships with survivors, whether medical aid is needed, the distressed vessel’s condition, and whether it is hazardous to other navigating vessels (IAMSAR III, 2016).

State the Communications Required and Means of Communication

Between osc and mrcc.

Communication between OSC and MRCC is crucial for informed decision-making for a successful mission. Therefore, OSC ought to give regular SITREPs to SMC and MRCC to correlate and update the information. Email, fax, and telephones can be used if the search area has a strong internet connection. Moreover, coastal radio stations, land earth stations, and direct satellite communication can be used in extreme situations.

Between OSC and Involved Vessels

Communication between OSC and involved vessels is crucial in ensuring that the search plan is accordingly executed and navigation is safe for the rescuers. Devices and means of communication that can be used include MF radiotelephony, VHF AM, and VHF channels 16 and o6.

Between Vessels and Rescue Crafts

The rescue crafts are nearer to the life rafts and people in the water than the involved vessels. Therefore, they provide crucial information that can be used to execute the search mission effectively. The information is crucial to the SMC and MRCC to coordinate actions rescued from the land. The vessels and rescue crafts utilize VHF radiotelephony, SARTs, and AIS-SART (IAMSAR III, 2016).

Reference List

Andreassen, N., Borch, O.J., Kuznetsova, S. and Markov, S. (2018) ‘Emergency management in maritime mass rescue operations: the case of the High Arctic.’, in Sustainable Shipping in a Changing Arctic . Springer, Cham, pp. 359-381

IAMSAR III, 2016, ‘ IAMSAR Volume III (Mobile Facilites) 3-42 Search Successful’, London: International Maritime Organisation.

IAMSAR III, 2016, ‘ IAMSAR Volume III (Mobile Facilites) 3-42 Search Successful’ London: International Maritime Organisation.

IAMSAR III, 2016, ‘ IAMSAR Volume III (Mobile Facilites) 3-6 Communications’, London: International Maritime Organisation.

IAMSAR III, 2016, ‘ IAMSAR Volume III (Mobile facilities) 3-1 Requirements of search and rescue operation’, London: International Maritime Organisation.

IAMSAR III, 2016, ‘ IAMSAR Volume III (Mobile facilities) 3-2 On-Scene-Coordinator’, London: International Maritime Organisation.

IAMSAR III, 2016, ‘ IAMSAR Volume III (Mobile facilities) 3-3 On-Scene-Coordinator duties’, London: International Maritime Organisation.

IAMSAR III, 2016, ‘ IAMSAR volume III (Mobile facilities) Rescue function 2-18 Developing a rescue plan’, London: International Maritime Organisation.

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Exploring search and rescue missions at the columbia river bar.

essay about search and rescue

Broadcast: Wednesday, Jan. 3

Where the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean meet the shallower waters of the Columbia River, the waves, the wind and the current combine to make what is often a very hazardous situation. More than 2,000 vessels and 700 lives have been lost at the Columbia Bar, and many more in the surrounding area, known as ‘The Graveyard of the Pacific.’ Christopher D’Amelio is one of a select few people who have qualified as surfmen for the U.S. Coast Guard. Surfmen pilot rescue boats over sometimes huge waves and help keep boaters safe. D’Amelio’s book about his time on the Columbia is called “ Life and Death at Cape Disappointment .”

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Jeffrey Epstein contact names released by court. Here are key takeaways from the unsealed documents.

By Cara Tabachnick, Allison Elyse Gualtieri

Updated on: January 3, 2024 / 10:40 PM EST / CBS News

Documents that include the names of dozens of people connected to Jeffrey Epstein, including business associates and accusers, among others, were made public on Wednesday, Jan. 3, following a federal judge's December ruling that the information be unsealed . 

Though the unsealed court documents don't contain an actual list of associates, the names are expected to include some that also appeared on the flight logs of Epstein's private jet, nicknamed the "Lolita Express," which he often used to fly to his private island in the Caribbean. Those manifests and other documents, such as his private calendar, had previously been made public, including as part of legal proceedings or public records requests. Many of those who had business or social ties with Epstein, a convicted sex offender, have denied any misconduct or involvement in his activities.

The release of the names stems from a now-settled defamation lawsuit brought in 2015 by Virginia Giuffre, who accused British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell of enabling her abuse by Epstein. 

Maxwell was found guilty by a New York jury in 2021 on conspiracy and trafficking charges related to Epstein, her longtime friend and sometime romantic partner, and her role for a decade in the abuse of underage girls. 

What is in the Jeffrey Epstein-related court documents?

Court documents list 184 "J. Does," starting at J. Doe #3 through J. Doe #187. Some names are repeated twice. A small number are the names of minors or sexual assault victims, which the judge specified won't be released. 

According to a court record released Jan. 3, documents for two Does — 107 and 110 — will not be immediately released. One was granted an extension until Jan. 22 for her appeal about the release and the other's appeal is still under review.

The documents released by the court mention some well-known figures whose contacts with Epstein have been reported in the past, such as Britain's Prince Andrew . The prince settled a lawsuit in 2022 with Virginia Giuffre, who accused him and Epstein of abusing her as a teen, an accusation Andrew denied. In a court filing at the time, his attorneys said, "Prince Andrew regrets his association with Epstein, and commends the bravery of Ms. Giuffre and other survivors in standing up for themselves and others."

Bill Clinton, also among the people whose names appear in the documents, had allegedly been described by Epstein as "a good friend," one Epstein accuser recounted in 2019. The former president's name had also appeared on manifests for the private jet, on which he said he had taken four trips "in connection with the work of the Clinton Foundation." He has not been accused of abuse, and a spokesperson referred CBS News to a 2019 statement denying Clinton had any knowledge of what he called Epstein's "terrible crimes."

In one of the documents, Maxwell testifies that Clinton never had a meal on Epstein's island and that she does not know how many times Clinton flew on Epstein's plane. 

In the filing, Maxwell's team attempts to debunk an article by journalist Sharon Churcher of the Daily Mail, who described a dinner on Epstein's Little St. James island allegedly attended by Clinton "shortly after he left office." Maxwell's team claims, "Former FBI Director Louis Freeh submitted a report wherein he concluded that President Clinton 'did not, in fact travel to, nor was he present on, Little St. James Island between January 1, 2001 and January 1, 2003'," and goes on to say Secret Service assigned to the former president would have been required to file travel logs.

Also named in the documents is Sarah Kellen, a former Epstein employee who has been accused by one adult victim of knowingly scheduling her flights and appointments with the financier and Maxwell.

Kellen's spokesperson had said in a 2020 statement to CBS News that Kellen scheduled those appointments at the direction of Epstein and Maxwell, and was herself "sexually" and "psychologically" abused by Epstein "for years." The statement noted Kellen "deeply regrets that she had any part in it."

What happened in the Jeffrey Epstein case?

Epstein was accused of sexually assaulting numerous teenage girls, some of them as young as 14 years old, according to prosecutors. Over many years, he allegedly exploited a vast network of underage girls for sex at his homes in Manhattan ; Palm Beach, Florida; and his private island near St. Thomas.

Epstein had pleaded not guilty to charges brought in 2019 by federal prosecutors in New York of sex trafficking conspiracy and one count of sex trafficking with underage girls. His death in prison before facing trial was ruled a suicide .

Epstein had cut a deal with federal prosecutors in Florida in 2008, reaching a non-prosecution agreement on allegations he sexually abused underage girls, in return for pleading guilty to lesser state charges and serving 13 months in jail, much of the time on work release. He also had to pay settlements to victims and register as a sex offender. 

That agreement, which had not been disclosed to his victims, was under investigation at the time of his death .

Who else's names are among those released in the Epstein-related documents?

A name's inclusion in the documents does not indicate the person has committed or has been accused of any wrongdoing. In addition, some of the people whose names appear are witnesses who were staff members, provided medical care or were in law enforcement, for example.

  • Juan Alessi and Alfredo Rodriguez : Alessi , a longtime manager of Epstein's Palm Beach estate, and Rodriguez, his former butler who died in 2015, are both named in the documents as having offered testimony.
  • Johanna Sjoberg : A deposition from Sjoberg in the suit includes previous accusations alleging she was groped by Prince Andrew in 2001, when she was 21.  BBC News reports Buckingham Palace previously called her allegations "categorically untrue." The newly released documents include questions to Maxwell about Sjoberg.
  • Jean-Luc Brunel : A onetime close friend of Epstein, Brunel was found dead in a French jail in 2022 while being investigated by that country's authorities. He was accused of helping procure women and underage girls for Epstein and was also alleged to have raped and assaulted women he knew from the modeling world. In the documents, one witness mentioned in a deposition asking him for a job, and several others were asked about him.
  • Bill Richardson: The former governor of New Mexico, Richardson died in September. He had been previously reported to have visited Epstein's sprawling Zorro Ranch in New Mexico at least once. Richardson denied accusations made by Giuffre, who in a previously unsealed deposition said that she was directed to have sex with him. He called the accusation "completely false" and said he had never met Giuffre.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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Cara Tabachnick is a news editor and journalist at CBSNews.com. Cara began her career on the crime beat at Newsday. She has written for Marie Claire, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. She reports on justice and human rights issues. Contact her at [email protected]

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Developing ash-free high-strength spherical carbon catalyst supports

  • Domestic Catalysts
  • Published: 28 June 2013
  • Volume 5 , pages 156–163, ( 2013 )
  • V. V. Gur’yanov 1 ,
  • V. M. Mukhin 1 &
  • A. A. Kurilkin 1  

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The possibility of using furfurol for the production of ash-free high-strength active carbons with spheroidal particles as adsorbents and catalyst supports is substantiated. A single-stage process that incorporates the resinification of furfurol, the molding of a spherical product, and its hardening while allowing the process cycle time and the cost of equipment to be reduced is developed. Derivatographic, X-ray diffraction, mercury porometric, and adsorption studies of the carbonization of the molded spherical product are performed to characterize the development of the primary and porous structures of carbon residues. Ash-free active carbons with spheroidal particles, a full volume of sorbing micro- and mesopores (up to 1.50 cm 3 /g), and a uniquely high mechanical strength (its abrasion rate is three orders of magnitude lower than that of industrial active carbons) are obtained via the vapor-gas activation of a carbonized product. The obtained active carbons are superior to all known foreign and domestic analogues and are promising for the production of catalysts that operate under severe regimes, i.e., in moving and fluidized beds.

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Gur’yanov, V.V., Mukhin, V.M. & Kurilkin, A.A. Developing ash-free high-strength spherical carbon catalyst supports. Catal. Ind. 5 , 156–163 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1134/S2070050413020062

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Unsealed Jeffrey Epstein court papers – read document in full

Hundreds of pages of documents linked to Epstein associates were made public on Wednesday. You can read them here in full

  • Full report: Jeffrey Epstein court documents unsealed
  • Explainer: who was Epstein and what are court documents about?

Court documents linked to associates of sex offender Jeffrey Epstein have been made public on Wednesday.

The unsealed papers run to almost 950 pages and list people including Prince Andrew and Bill Clinton.

The inclusion of a name in this list does not mean that said associate has been accused of wrongdoing in relation to Epstein. Among the names are people mentioned in passing at legal proceedings.

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Russia establishes special site to fabricate fuel for China’s CFR-600

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A special production site to fabricate fuel for China’s CFR-600 fast reactor under construction has been established at Russia’s Mashinostroitelny Zavod (MSZ - Machine-Building Plant) in Elektrostal (Moscow region), part of Rosatom’s TVEL Fuel Company. 

As part of the project, MSZ had upgraded existing facilities fo the production of fuel for fast reactors, TVEL said on 3 March. Unique equipment has been created and installed, and dummy CFR-600 fuel assemblies have already been manufactured for testing.

The new production site was set up to service an export contract between TVEL and the Chinese company CNLY (part of China National Nuclear Corporation - CNNC) for the supply of uranium fuel for CFR-600 reactors. Construction of the first CFR-600 unit started in Xiapu County, in China's Fujian province in late 2017 followed by the second unit in December 2020. The contract is for the start-up fuel load, as well as refuelling for the first seven years. The start of deliveries is scheduled for 2023.

“The Russian nuclear industry has a unique 40 years of experience in operating fast reactors, as well as in the production of fuel for such facilities,” said TVEL President Natalya Nikipelova. “The Fuel Division of Rosatom is fulfilling its obligations within the framework of Russian-Chinese cooperation in the development of fast reactor technologies. These are unique projects when foreign design fuel is produced in Russia. Since 2010, the first Chinese fast neutron reactor CEFR has been operating on fuel manufactured at the Machine-Building Plant, and for the supply of CFR-600 fuel, a team of specialists from MSZ and TVEL has successfully completed a complex high-tech project to modernise production,” she explained.

A special feature of the new section is its versatility: this equipment will be used to produce fuel intended for both the Chinese CFR-600 and CEFR reactors and the Russian BN-600 reactor of the Beloyarsk NPP. In the near future, the production of standard products for the BN-600 will begin.

The contract for the supply of fuel for the CFR-600 was signed in December 2018 as part of a governmental agreement between Russia and China on cooperation in the construction and operation of a demonstration fast neutron reactor in China. This is part of a wider comprehensive programme of cooperation in the nuclear energy sector over the coming decades. This includes serial construction of the latest Russian NPP power units with generation 3+ VVER-1200 reactors at two sites in China (Tianwan and Xudabao NPPs). A package of intergovernmental documents and framework contracts for these projects was signed in 2018 during a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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Remains of Orlando mom who vanished in 2012 found in pond near Disney World, rescue group says

The remains of an Orlando, Florida, mother who vanished nearly 12 years ago were found in a retention pond near Disney World, according to the rescue group who found her.

Sandra Lemire vanished in May 2012 after going on a date with a man she met online. The case went cold until last week when Sunshine State Sonar, a search and recovery team, received new details from the Orlando Police Department, the group said in a Facebook post .

That information led Sunshine State Sonar to a pond in Kissimmee, Florida, where the red minivan Lemire was driving had ended up following a car accident.

Sandra Lemire.

"Deep in my heart, I always thought this was a foul play case. And it turned out to be just a bad, terrible car accident," Mike Sullivan with Sunshine State Sonar told NBC affiliate WESH of Orlando . "I’m just so proud of our team."

The Orlando Police Department confirmed that the minivan was connected to Lemire's missing person case. Florida Department of Law Enforcement is working on identifying the remains found in the van, police said Tuesday.

Lemire left her grandmother's house in Orlando on May 8, 2012, to meet up with a man in Kissimmee whom she had been talking to on a dating app, Sunshine State Sonar said. She was driving her grandmother's van at the time.

The rescue team said Lemire called her grandmother when she arrived in Kissimmee and promised to call again before her trip back home. But she never called.

The investigation found that Lemire was last seen in the minivan leaving a Denny’s restaurant in Kissimmee, the group said.

Sunshine State Sonar began assisting in the search in July 2022. Over the past 17 months, 63 bodies of water were searched, according to the Facebook post.

Last week, when the group received new information from police, it began mapping new search areas. On Saturday, the team got a "hit on sonar in a small retention pond at the Disney World exit," the group said on Facebook.

"We located what appeared to be a minivan submerged in 14 feet of water," the group said.

Sunshine State Sonar was able to confirm that the license plate on the submerged vehicle matched the one Lemire was driving on the night she vanished. Her remains and personal belongings were recovered Sunday .

Multiple agencies, including the Orlando Police Department, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Highway Patrol, assisted in the recovery.

In a Facebook comment, Sunshine State Sonar said that Lemire's vehicle came off a steep embankment before entering the water. The rescue team said the water is not visible from the highway and is "set down below, making it difficult for anyone to see."

The group said it was happy it was able to provide some closure to her family.

"Our hearts go out to her family who supported us along the way we are saddened at the circumstances, but glad we could assist in bringing her home," the group said. "Rest in peace Sandra, you are finally home."

Lemire's son, Timothy Lemire Jr., told WESH that the family is still trying to process that their 11-year nightmare has finally come to an end.

"It’s a lot of mixed emotions," he said. "I’m happy she wasn’t murdered or kidnapped or anything like that because we’ve been thinking that for years."

Minyvonne Burke is a senior breaking news reporter for NBC News.

IMAGES

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VIDEO

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