Map: Methodology Info

Journey / connected operations / disembarkation

A Search and Rescue journey begins when our vessels leave the port of departure.

Once at sea and particularly in the Search and Rescue (SAR) zone, a number of operations can take place. MSF carries out two types of SAR operations: rescues of people from boats in distress, and “transshipments” of people from/to other ships (transfers) in order to assure best rescue practices and to efficiently organize the presence of rescue assets in the search and rescue area. This is coordinated by the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre  (MRCC) in Rome.

All operations that happen during the same journey are defined as ‘connected’.

The journey ends with disembarkation at an allocated port of safety, designated by the MRCC.

Initiation of the operation

Each MSF operation can be initiated  in the following three ways:

  1. call from the MRCC who has already been informed of a vessel in distress
  2. MSF directly spotting a boat in distress while present in the Search and Rescue zone
  3. a call from another vessel (e.g. another rescue boat or the Italian Coastguard) who has identified a boat in distress.

In the latter two cases, it is MSF’s responsibility to inform the MRCC about the vessel in distress. The MRCC then coordinates who will conduct the rescue.

Operations in territorial waters

The vast majority of our Search and Rescue operations happen in international waters. In exceptional cases interventions can take place in Libyan territorial waters. All exceptions are at the request of, and in coordination with, the MRCC.

Tracking the sea routes

The position and movements of MSF vessels are monitored with the Automatic Identification System (AIS). In order to track the movements of its vessels, MSF relies on regular and ad hoc reports provided by Vessel Finder, a network of AIS receivers from all over the world.

The most relevant data in the report (1 ship position every hour) are as follows:

  • DATE and TIME - time stamp of last received position record (in UTC)
  • LATITUDE - geographical latitude AIS format (World Geodetic System 1984)
  • LONGITUDE - geographical longitude AIS format (World Geodetic System 1984)
  • COURSE - course over ground (in degrees)
  • SPEED - speed over ground (in knots)
  • IMO number – International Maritime Organization (IMO) ship identification number
  • DESTINATION - destination port the vessel is sailing to (as manually entered by the Master).

Vessel Finder receives position data from terrestrial AIS receiving stations and stores this data in its own database. The coverage of the stations is limited by propagation of VHF radio waves and goes up to 50-70 miles radius far from the shore depending on the weather condition. In some areas and under some atmospheric or climatic conditions the coverage might can be compromised, leading to non-reporting or reporting of compromised and incorrect data.

Weather conditions

For each rescue we aim at proving the following weather information:

  1. the speed of the wind (in knots)
  2. the height of the wave (in meters).

The source of this information is of two types: the logbook (or statement of facts) written by the Master of the boat (in situ data collection) and the LaMMA consortium report (simulated data based on mathematical models and reconstructions centred on the GPS coordinates, time and known weather conditions).