Protecting the civilian search and rescue fleet in the Central Mediterranean

Protecting the civilian search and rescue fleet
in the Central Mediterranean

The urgency for change in the maritime SAR environment

This collaborative research project, led by MarSAR and Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) aims to address the oppressive situation that maritime search and rescue non-governmental organisations (SAR NGOs) face whilst operating in the Central Mediterranean migratory route. Humanitarian SAR NGOs have been struggling to maintain momentum in their activities due to EU port state authorities placing administrative and criminal charges against them and detaining their vessels. Consequently, this has created a hostile and uncooperative environment and obstructed their abilities to operate their SAR missions.

There are grave consequences if humanitarians organisations are prevented from operating at sea. With inadequate maritime search and rescue capacity in the region, more lives will be lost if distress calls are not responded to effectively or left unanswered by state naval/coast guards. In addition, civil society organisations play an important role in monitoring the human rights of vulnerable people. Without the civil fleet at sea, there is a greater risk of human rights violations.

Photo credit: Fabian Heinz & Sea-Eye

The project team

This study is a joint research collaboration between Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) and MarSAR International, a consultancy specialising in maritime search and rescue and maritime emergency response, based in the United Kingdom. The co-researchers are: Joanne Vincett, a Doctoral Researcher in the Faculty of Business and Law at LJMU, and Matthew Schanck, Director of MarSAR International. Their role is to:

  • Organise a working group of participants from SAR NGOs operating in the Central Mediterranean
  • Facilitate interactive workshops and discussions with the group to analyse and reflect on the current issues, and to explore solutions to improve the NGOs’ positions, legitimacy and rights to operate
  • Lead in putting a plan into action, co-created with the group, that will inform international maritime policy
MarSAR International logo

Project design


We take an action research approach to address the questions:

  • How can humanitarian SAR NGOs strengthen their legitimacy to continue to operate in a complex jurisdictional maritime environment?
  • To what extent would the addition of a search and rescue vessel code and certification to the international maritime regulatory framework prevent the detention of NGOs’ vessels?

Action research involves open dialogue, critical reflection, planning and taking action with our working group of participants.

Project objectives

  • To better understand the needs of civil society SAR organisations operating in the Central Mediterranean migratory route and on what grounds their vessels are being detained
  • To develop and implement solutions that enable and protect their activities at sea and prevent further detentions of their vessels

Expected outcomes

By the end of the project, we believe that:

  1. SAR NGOs will strengthen their legitimacy to practice their humanitarian search and rescue activities.
  2. State authorities will have weaker grounds to restrict SAR NGOs’ vessels from operating.
  3. Participants in the working group will improve their collaborative skills and be empowered to devise solutions to their own issues.

About us

We are co-researchers taking action to help prevent the detention of civilian search and rescue vessels in the Central Mediterranean by EU member states.

Contact us

Get in touch if you would like to learn more, support us or take part if you are an active member of a SAR NGO in the Central Mediterranean.