Are current Search and Rescue in the Arctic capabilities adequate? Canada has both marine and aviation search and rescue (SAR) requirements and obligations that have been agreed to by longstanding binding international agreements. That is not in dispute. The question arises, given increasing commercial and cruise ship activity.

The challenges are significant on SAR response capability in the vast Arctic region, and the demand will only increase along with the steady growth of shipping activity. This is especially so when it comes to cruise ships. More tourists are being drawn to the Arctic experience, and such large passenger volume creates incredible risk and unique rescue challenges in the event of a catastrophe – of which there have been far too many to ignore.

Why is Planning for Search and Rescue in the Arctic Needed Now?

Joe Spears and Michael K.P. Dorey in this Frontline Securitarticle assert that the time to start building SAR capability by governments and vessel owners and operators is long before incidents occur. Canada as an Arctic nation needx to move forward on Arctic SAR as fast as the sea ice is receding, so “others may live”.

The Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement (formally the Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic) is an international treaty concluded among the member states of the Arctic Council — Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States — on 12 May 2011 in Nuuk, Greenland.

The treaty coordinates international search and rescue (SAR) coverage and response in the Arctic, and establishes the area of SAR responsibility of each state party. Given the conflicting territorial claims in the Arctic, the treaty provides that “the delimitation of search and rescue regions is not related to and shall not prejudice the delineation of any boundary between States or their sovereignty, sovereign rights or jurisdiction.”

The Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement is the first binding agreement negotiated under the auspices of the Arctic Council. The treaty reflects the Arctic region’s growing economic importance.