Bulletin No.: 15/1985

Date (Y-M-D): 1985-10-09

Subject: Assistance to Persons in Distress at Sea

1 General

1.1 At a recent meeting the Council of the International Maritime Organization noted with concern the continuing plight of refugees at sea and particularly those in small craft which are unseaworthy and not properly equipped or manned. The Council recognized that these persons may be in need of protection from the perils of the sea or possible acts of piracy and armed robbery.

1.2 Canadian shipmasters may find vessels in many areas of the world that have put to sea with refugees. Mariners must be on the alert for such vessels since they may be unseaworthy and unable to indicate that they are in distress.

1.3 Canadian shipmasters are reminded of their obligations to assist people in distress under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea ( SOLAS ), the International Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules of Law Respecting Assistance and Salvage at sea (1910) and the Canada Shipping Act.

2 Action by Governments, Organizations, Shipowners and Masters

2.1 The Council has therefore urged Governments, organizations and shipowners concerned to intensify their efforts to ensure that necessary assistance is provided to any person in distress at sea.

2.2 It was also recommended that Governments and shipowners take all suitable measures, in the context of the applicable international conventions and resolutions, to facilitate actions by a shipmaster which, in his professional judgement, are necessary for the rescue of persons in distress at sea. In particular, an international Resolution also invites Governments to ensure that the shipmaster is not constrained by the shipowner, charterer or any other person from taking in this respect any decisions which, in the professional judgement of the shipmaster, are necessary.

2.3 Shipmasters are requested to maintain due vigilance and take all possible steps to assist and, as necessary, rescue any person found to be in distress at sea.

2.4 Decisions taken by shipmasters to rescue persons in distress at sea should not be influenced by the limits of the ship's lifesaving equipment capabilities being exceeded in such exceptional circumstances.

3 Diplomatic Assistance

3.1 The Canadian Government, through its diplomatic Posts abroad, will render every possible consular assistance to shipmasters of Canadian registered vessels who rescue refugees in international waters, with a view to ensuring that they will be allowed to disembark the survivors at the first port of call, or if that is not possible, at some other appropriate port.

3.2 In respect of Canadian owned but foreign registered vessels, the Canadian Government will fully support through the Department of External Affairs the diplomatic efforts of the government of the country of registration of the vessel to secure permission for the shipmaster to disembark at an appropriate port the survivors of vessels in distress.

3.3 Shipmasters should know that the Canadian diplomatic representations to other governments will rest upon the well-known willingness of the Canadian Government to accept refugees wishing to go to Canada who are found to meet the requirements of the Immigration Act (e.g. health and good character) and who are brought to port aboard Canadian owned or registered ships.

3.4 Canadian missions abroad will give Canadian shipmasters all possible assistance in ensuring that such persons are interviewed by the nearest Canadian immigration office as quickly as possible. Subject to normal medical and character clearances persons rescued by Canadian owned or Canadian registered ships will be accepted as refugees for residence in Canada.

4 Revocation of Ship Safety Bulletin 2/79

4.1 Ship Safety Bulletin 2/79 concerning "refugees in Southeast Asian waters who may be in distress" is cancelled.

Keywords:                                  Questions concerning this bulletin should be addressed to:

1. Distress
2. Survivors
3. Refugees
Transport Canada
Marine Safety
Tower C, Place de Ville
11th Floor, 330 Sparks Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0N8

To add or change your address, contact us at: marinesafety@tc.gc.ca

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