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Report on Search And Rescue Activity and Migratory flows in Central Mediterranean sea 



Report on Search And Rescue Activity and Migratory flows in Central Mediterranean sea


Rescuing people in a difficult situation at sea has always been, since its institution, one of the main tasks of the Italian Coast Guard. An operational activity which, through more efficient air and naval assets and diver components, as well as through the development of communications and monitoring devices, has elevated Search and Rescue as the main mission of the Corps. The significant part of such ”mission” is the activity performed to save thousands of migrants that everyday sail into the Mediterranean Sea towards a better hope. The continuous and tireless effort of Coast Guard personnel, authentic “hope sowers” (as Pope Francis called them), is enclosed in this report (HD version) which proposes a detailed summary on the migratory flows which, during last year, have crossed the Central Mediterranean. An in-depth analysis of the constant changes of the scenario also represents the basis of the job which men and women of the Italian Coast Guard, authentic professional maritime experts, carry out day by day, taking the risk for their own safety, in every sea-wheater conditions, in order to fulfil, in the best way and within the shortest possible time, the rescue of human beings at sea.

Everything is enclosed in the report (HD version) from a different point of view, the migration phenomenon that is upon our daily work, our consciousness and our lives.


With Law n. 147 dated 3rd April 1989 Italy ratified the 1979 Hamburg International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, then implemented with Presidential Decree n. 662/1994. With this measure rescue at sea was no longer an activity delivered through the assets available at the time and entered into a highly professional stage with specifically adapted assets and specially trained crews. This regulation outlines an organizational and functional structure of the sector, defining functions for each of the involved units and specifically making the Coast Guard Headquarters accountable for ensuring the efficient organization of search and rescue services in the entire region of interest on the Italian sea, which overcomes the territorial waters boundaries. The Coast Guard Headquarters in fact is in charge of the I.M.R.C.C. functions - Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre - which all the activities aimed at the search and rescue of human life at sea report to; these activities may be delivered through the use of air and naval components of the Coast Guard, with the possible use of other military and civilian rescue units. The I.M.R.C.C., functionally identified in the Operational Centre of the Coast Guard Headquarters, keeps contact with the rescue coordination centers in other states to ensure international cooperation as defined by the Hamburg Convention.

Jurisdiction of the 15 Maritime Directorates

The same Decree n. 662/94 assigns the functions of Maritime Rescue Sub Centers (M.R.S.C.) to the current 15 Maritime Directorates: this ensures the co-ordination of maritime search and rescue operations within their own jurisdictions in accordance with the specific directions or mandates of the National Centre (I.M.R.C.C).

In order to give full effect to the 1979 Hamburg Convention requirements and the related implementing regulation, the I.M.R.C.C. defined a special "National Maritime S.A.R. Plan" approved on 25th November 1996 by the Minister of Transport and Navigation. The document is essentially structured in a preliminary part on the general organization and functional S.A.R. service and in a second part on the local M.R.S.C. plans containing all the available resources as well as the local operational connections.​

Operations centre


The London 1974 Convention on Navigation Safety – S.O.L.A.S. 1974 - ratified in Italy by Law n. 313/1980 requires each State to ensure a search and rescue service with specialized assets. Italy ratified the 1979 Hamburg International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue with Law n. 147/1989, implemented through Presidential Decree n. 662/1994. The Coast Guard Headquarters was then identified as the national body in charge for ensuring coordination of maritime search and rescue services and contacts with other States.

The Coast Guard Headquarters exercises those functions through its Operations Centre. It is in charge of all the institutional operative tasks related to the coordination on national and international level of air and naval operations in the search and rescue areas, maritime police, prevention and fighting marine pollution and, more generally, for the supervision of all activities on the sea. For delivering these activities, the Operations Centre exercises operational control on Coast Guard vessels and aircrafts, either directly or through the local Commands through specific mandates. The main activities delivered by this structure are the organization and coordination of national rescue services at sea (S.A.R. - Search & Rescue).





As for Legislative Decree n. 196/2005, the Coast Guard Headquarters is the competent authority in charge for:

  • monitoring and controlling maritime traffic – i.e. gathering and exchange of information for increasing traffic safety and efficiency;

  • improving response capabilities in S.A.R. activity for protecting human life at sea;

  • contributing to a more effective prevention and localization of pollution caused by ships;

  • monitoring and controlling activities related to the exploitation of fisheries resources.

The Operation Center monitoring room is arranged with workstations configured for monitoring, controlling and managing maritime traffic; they can interact with the following systems:

  • ARES (Search and Rescue Automation)

  • LRIT (Long Range Identification and Tracking)

  • AIS (Automatic Identification System)

  • VTS (Vessel Traffic Service)

  • VMS (Vessel Monitoring System)

  • SafeSeaNet (SSN)

  • CleanSeaNet (CSN)

  • IMDATE (Maritime Integrated Data Environment) - experimental

  • NAVTEX (Navigational Text Warning)

All the above mentioned systems form the VTMIS platform (Vessel Traffic Management and Information System).

ARES (Search and Rescue Automation).

The ship reporting system ARES is designed to provide updated information on ships movements, so in case of danger it will be possible to:

  1. reduce dead time between the loss of contact with a ship and the start of search and rescue operations;

  2. rapidly identify ships to be contacted for providing assistance;

  3. limit search areas in case of unknown or uncertain position of the ship;

  4. provide urgent medical assistance or information to ships with no doctor onboard.

As for Ministerial Decree (Merchant Navy) dated 22nd July 1987, all national merchant ships of more than 1,600 tons travelling either domestic (over 24 hours) and international (over 12 hours) must communicate to the Coast Guard Headquarters their navigation plan before departure, update it regularly and communicate as well the arrival at the port of destination.

LRIT (Long Range Identification and Tracking)

The Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) is a vessel traffic satellite monitoring system adopted in accordance with Resolution MSC 202 (81) and IMO rules, subject to Rule 19-1 of SOLAS Chapter V, for safeguarding the security navigation (in its double aspect of safety and security).

Every 6 hours usually, the Operations Centre takes from LRIT all the available information about vessels with the Italian flag, regardless of the area of sea where they are located because the system is able to provide information over long distances.

Moreover, the Centre can request information about ships with flags of other participant States that have declared their intention to dock in an Italian port, regardless of where the ships are located, or navigating to a distance not exceeding 1000 nautical miles from the Italian coasts.

AIS (Automatic Identification System)

AIS is an automated tracking system used on commercial vessels bigger than 300 G.R.T., on pleasure craft with length exceeding 45 meters and on fishing boats of more than 15 meters. These units transmit via radio both their identification (name, unit, flag, etc.) and movement elements (position, course, speed, destination, etc.) to coastal radio stations with reception capacity covering the whole national territory. The system updates the positions almost in real-time but, because of the VHF transmission system used, the range is limited to 30 - 40 nautical miles depending on weather conditions .

VTS (Vessel Traffic Service)

The purpose of the VTS radar system is to increase both safety and efficiency of maritime traffic, to facilitate the intervention of the authorities in case of accident or potentially dangerous situations at sea, including search and rescue operations; it provides also support for improving prevention and finding of pollution caused by ships.

The goal of each VTS depends on the characteristics and volume of the marine traffic in the area it operates as well as specific local circumstances. The external operating procedures for participating a VTS should not burden more than necessary on the workload of the participating naval units.

All VTS are organized and equipped so they can provide some of or all the following basic services:

  • information service;

  • navigation assistance service;

  • traffic organization service.

VMS (Vessel Monitoring System)

VMS is a satellite monitoring system adopted in compliance with EC Regulations n. 1224 dated 20th November 2009  and n. 404 dated 4th August 2011 for the control of fisheries resources exploitation. The fishing vessels longer than 15 meters must be equipped with a satellite transmission system that provides at least every two hours static (unit name, registration office, etc.) and dynamic (position, course and speed) information in order to allow the Operations Centre of the ITCG Headquarters to be able to monitor these units during the fishing activities.

SafeSeaNet (SSN)

SafeSeaNet (SSN) is a monitoring and information system for marine traffic established in compliance with Directive 2002/59/EC in order to increase the safety of shipping and ports, the protection of the marine environment and the efficiency of trade and maritime transport. SafeSeaNet is a European platform for the exchange of maritime information between the authorities designated by the participating countries (belonging to EU, applicant to EU and EFTA countries) and the European Agencies. The SSN contains information on travel (Port Plus notification), number of people and cargo on board (Ship Notification), with possible indication of Dangerous Goods (Hazmat) as well as reports on incidents threatening the safety of navigation and the marine environment (Incident Report).

CleanSeaNet (CSN)

CleanSeaNet (CSN) is a service adopted in compliance with EU Directive 2005/35/EC dated 7th September 2005 on ship-provoked pollution: it allows identification of marine pollution by hydrocarbons through satellite monitoring provided to coastal States. Its purpose is to build and improve a national/regional surveillance and operational response to marine pollution by hydrocarbons.

The ITCG Operations Centre, following a schedule agreed with the EMSA (European Maritime Safety Agency), receives alert reports indicating any "possible oil slick" and "Clean sea notification" to validate and/or investigate in order to identify responsibilities. A feedback of the activities is then sent to EMSA.

IMDATE (Maritime Integrated Data Environment) - experimental

IMDatE (Integrated Maritime Data Environment) is a platform that allows to combine and process data from applications EMSA (CSN, SSN LRIT, THETIS[1]) and other sources (VMS, S-AIS, coastal radars, satellite data).

Through IMDatE, EMSA provides the Operations Centre on a single graphical interface and in near real-time with the most complete data integrated picture of maritime activities (maritime picture) in the area of interest; data that otherwise would be available only with a range of different single applications. The system integrates the functions of the applications and other sources of data. Currently participant States allow data flow about their vessels units in IMDate with different "policies" that vary depending on the type of unit; for this reason this information is not always complete. Furthermore, the different sources of information provide data with different time frames (eg.: AIS every few minutes; VMS data every hour or every 2 hours; LRIT data every 4 hours, etc.).

NAVTEX (Navigational Text Warning)

Navtex is a fully automated direct-printing service for real-time transmission of notices to seafarers, weather information and other emergency alerts to navigation units. This service is available free of charge on the frequencies 490 kHz and 518 kHz with a special receiver sold by marine equipment retailers as well as on pages 718/1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 of RAITELETEXT. On MEDIAVIDEO on pages 415, 416, 417, 418 and 419 of the "bacino 400" of Weather and Transport.

NAVTEX (acronym for Navigational Telex) is an international automatic information service with direct printing of navigation bulletins, meteorological and urgent information used by ships and in general by all sailing people interested in the use of such information. It was developed with the purpose of realizing a low cost system, simple to use, automatic and able to receive information on navigation safety, both on the open sea and by the coast.

In this context, the Operations Centre of the Coast Guard Headquarters has assumed the role of National Coordinator for the NAVTEX service, with the mission of ensuring the diffusion of notices to sailors and weather forecasts.​

[1] Thetis is an information system connected to SSN and used by PSC inspectors (Coast Guard specialized personnel in charge of safety visits on board of merchant ships); it indicates ships with priority for inspection and permits the recording of their results, making them available to inspectors of other countries belonging to the Paris Memorandum of Understanding.​