The first international agreement made exclusively for the Arctic region was signed at the ministerial meeting in Nuuk, May 12 2011. The agreement, which deals with search and rescue of aeronautical and maritime vessels and passengers, is also the first international agreement made under the auspices of the Arctic Council. The Arctic Council is now planning another international agreement for adoption which will deal with oil pollution in the Arctic.
The Agreement on cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic (Agreement) was made in accordance with the 1979 International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) and the 1944 Convention on International Civil Aviation, both of which are established and widely recognized international law. The objective of the Agreement is, however, to further strengthen aeronautical and maritime search and rescue cooperation and coordination in the Arctic. In order for that to be clear, each member state was given a particular Search and Rescue area which it is responsible for.
The main emphasis of the Agreement is to develop swift and efficient measures when accidents occur in the harsh Arctic region and to ensure, as much as possible, proper search and rescue operations. This is done by the clauses where the member states commit themselves to nominate certain national institutions in each state that will have full discretion in the field of search and rescue in the area. These national institutions are not only bound to take efficient measures, but also to notify other relevant national institutions when appropriate.
The most significant clause of the Agreement is Art. 8 where member states obligate themselves to send a permission request to another member state when e.g. a rescue vessel enters the Search and Rescue area of another State. This is obviously not unconventional, but the article also states that the receiving national institution “shall immediately confirm such receipt” and, as soon as possible, let the member state of the requesting vessel know if the request is permitted and under which conditions, if any.
Needless to say, the Agreement is only the beginning of a specific cooperation among the Arctic states and, as clearly stated in the Agreement, it will develop and be subject of amendments as search and rescue operation in the region become more apparent. The idea is then to make the Agreement more effective and cooperation more efficient. These objectives might be reached by the statements made in Art. 9 of the Agreement, where signatories oblige to maintain widespread cooperation on search and rescue. The most important cooperative measures of the member states is exchange of information on e.g. communication details, information about search and rescue facilities, lists of available airfields and ports and their refueling and resupply capabilities, knowledge of fueling, supply and medical facilities and information useful for training search and rescue personnel.
The Agreement will without any doubt strengthen cooperation between the Arctic states and improve the way Arctic countries respond to emergency calls in the region. The necessity of such an agreement and cooperation is great, as accidents in the region rely on swift responses and efficient operations, as much as fully qualified rescue personnel and equipment. It is hoped that the Agreement will not just work as an important instrument for saving properties and lives, but also to further forge the cooperation of the Arctic states.