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Search and rescue
Search and rescue in the event of a plane crash is governed by the 1944 ICAO Convention (Annex 12) as well as ICAO rules. The Greek search and rescue area was designated according to the 1952 ICAO Regional Agreement and corresponds to the Athens FIR.
With regards to sea search and rescue in particular, Greece coordinates operations within the Athens FIR ever since the latter was created in the 1950s. This reflects the geographical reality in the region, given the number of islands scattered around the Aegean Sea, enabling, from an operational standpoint, the most effective and swift provision of services for the protection of human life at sea. Furthermore, this is in accordance with the relevant recommendations of IMO and ICAO regarding the need that Search and Rescue areas are identical with the limits of the FIRs, both for air and sea accidents.
Upon signature of the Convention, Greece stated that its area of responsibility for search and rescue at sea coincided with the Athens FIR, as notified to the IMOs predecessor, the Intergovernmental Naval Advisory Organisation, in 1975. Upon ratification of the Hamburg Convention in 1979, Greece reiterated to the IMO that the Greek area of responsibility for accidents at sea corresponded to the Athens FIR and this declaration was included in the 1989 Law transposing this Convention into Greek legislation (Law 1844/1989).
According to this Convention, the member-states’ areas of responsibility for sea search and rescue services are determined by agreement of the coastal states concerned. Within this framework, Greece has signed agreements for search and rescue services in the event of accidents at sea with Italy (2000), as well as Malta (2008) and Cyprus (2014), explicitly stipulating that the Greek area of responsibility for accidents at sea corresponds to the Athens FIR, while agreements with other neighbouring states are also pending signature.
However, in 1988, in Regulation 1988/13559 (which was later modified by Regulation 2001/3275) Turkey also designated its area of responsibility for search and rescue services – without making it clear if said services would be provided to endangered air- or sea-craft – in an area which included a section of the Athens FIR almost up to the middle of the Aegean, thus designating a large section of Greek territory as being within the Turkish search and rescue area.
This Turkish act of incorporating Greek islands, Greek territorial waters and Greek airspace into the Turkish search and rescue area clearly violates Greece's sovereignty and sovereign rights.
This inclusion of part of the Athens FIR in the Turkish search and rescue area is not only operationally ineffective, but also violates Greek responsibilities granted by the ICAO.
It also goes against general international practice and ΙΜΟ and ICAO recommendations contained in the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue Manual (IAMSAR Manual) advocating the adoption of identical areas for both air and sea search and rescue to coincide with the limits of the FIRs, in accordance with Annex 12 of the Chicago Convention.
It is clear from the above that these claims on the part of Turkey serve specific political expediencies which have nothing to do with humanitarian search and rescue operations.
In any event, in practice Greece coordinates search and rescue operations effectively via its Joint Rescue Coordination Center (JRCC) in Piraeus, providing services to all ships and planes at risk within the Greek area of responsibility.