Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC)

In January 2007, a multilateral agreement was formally signed between the Governments of the Comoros, Madagascar, Mozambique and South Africa for the coordination of maritime search and rescue services in areas adjacent to the coast.

During this time, H.E. Efthimio Mitropoulos, the Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organisation, visited South Africa with one of the primary objectives being to launch the sub-regional Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre at SAMSA’s MRCC Cape Town.

The MRCC is operational 24/7 and must within its mean and capabilities coordinate its resources to search for, assist and, as required effect a rescue operation for

  • Survivors of aircraft crashes or forced landings at sea;
  • The crew and passengers of vessels in distress;
  • Survivors of maritime accidents or incidents;
  • Survivors of any military aircraft or vessel accident or incident if such aircraft or vessels is not engaged in an act of war; and
  • The MRCC must also coordinate the evacuation of seriously injured or ill person from a vessel at sea when the person requires medical treatment sooner than the vessel would be able to get him or her to a suitable medical facility.

MRCC is also pro-actively involved in monitoring towing operations, vessels not under command, pollution reports and vessels aground around the South African coasts and report incidents to SAMSA for action as required. The average incident rate is 100 per year.

Historical Background

Prior to 1958, no single Government authority was responsible for search and rescue (SAR) in South Africa or within its adjacent ocean areas. The introduction of an air service between South Africa and Australia in November 1957 together with the SAR obligations accepted by South Africa as a member of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) resulted in October 1958 the Department of Transport assuming responsibility for the co-ordination of South African SAR Services.
Prior to 1958, no single Government authority was responsible for search and rescue (SAR) in South Africa or within its adjacent ocean areas. The introduction of an air service between South Africa and Australia in November 1957 together with the SAR obligations accepted by South Africa as a member of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) resulted in October 1958 the Department of Transport assuming responsibility for the co-ordination of South African SAR Services.

The terms of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, to which South Africa is a signatory, are enacted in the Merchant Shipping Act (Act 57 of 1951) (View Act). This Convention placed further search and rescue obligations upon the South African Government.

In October 1961, the Permanent Executive Committee for Search and Rescue (PECSAR) was established to maintain South Africa's Search and Rescue Organisation on a sound basis.

However in 1979, in order to conform with the manner in which other national SAR Organisations are named, the acronym PECSAR was replaced by SASAR (South African Search and Rescue Organisation).

The SASAR Organisation is headed by an Executive Committee whose chairperson is also the Head of the South African Search and Rescue Services. The Executive Committee is made up of representatives from various Government Departments, voluntary and private organisations, which are signatories to and are able to contribute services and/or facilities for use by SASAR. A Secretariat performs the secretarial duties of the Organisation.
Two Sub-committees, the Aeronautical and Maritime Sub-committees are chaired by the Head of Maritime SAR Operations from the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) and by the Head of Aeronautical SAR Operations from Air Traffic and Navigational Services Company (ATNS) respectively.


The operational coordination of the Aeronautical Search and Rescue is managed by the ATNS.
The operational coordination of the Maritime Search and Rescue component, has numerous role players, for example, the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC Cape Town) is staffed by SAMSA personnel. The Maritime Rescue Sub-Centres (MRSCs) are staffed and managed by the National Ports Authority (NPA), while SAR Maritime Communications facilities are staffed and managed by Telkom.


Assisting any person on a vessel in distress serves national interests, is an established international practice based on traditional humanitarian obligations, and is founded in international law.

The main operational unit of a maritime SAR service is the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC), which is established in the maritime Search and Rescue region (SRR). South Africa's contribution towards SAR services are viewed as part of a global safety system. To this end, in the South Africa context, all available resources co-operate in assisting persons in distress.

The SRR of South Africa covers the entire South African coastal area; extends down to the South Pole, half way to South America to the West, and half way to Australia in the East.

The coastal area is divided into seven sub regions under the control of the NPA, Harbour Masters of Saldahna Bay, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban, Richards Bay, as well as the Port Captain of Walvis Bay. Within each sub-region the Harbour Master's office acts as a Rescue Sub Centre (RSC).

In maintaining a state of full readiness the MRCC also performs the following functions:

  • it monitors and evaluates levels of risk from Maritime Safety Information (MSI) broadcasts to ensure an immediate response in case of life threatening situations developing;
  • manages the South African Ship Reporting System (SAFREP) in order to keep track of vessels around the coast and within the EEZ to call upon for support during SAR operations;
  • it provides a Maritime Assistance Service (MAS), to receive reports and notifications in the event of an non-SAR incident involving a ship and to monitor the ship's situation in case it needs assistance and to serve as the point of contact between the master and the local authorities;
  • The MRCC receives, evaluates and passes on Maritime Security pre-arrival and alert information to the Maritime security coordination centre (MSCC) for dissemination to National authorities involved with the International ship and port security (ISPS) measures, for their action;
  • it ensures that International SAR standards are implemented and maintained by local SAR operators to ensure that SAR operations are conducted in accordance with laid down standards and recommended practices;
  • it implements the requirements of bilateral SAR agreements with neighbouring States regarding procedures and training in accordance with the letter and spirit of these agreements and established a SAR co-ordinators training capability to assist local and neighbouring authorities and countries in the sub-region, in terms of bilateral agreements and as accepted by the SA Government.
  • The MRCC is also the custodian of the South African EPIRB, ELT and PLB (emergency beacons) database and is responsible for keeping it up-to-date and accessible on 24 hour basis.


On 6th February the MRCC Chief, Mr Johan Carstens and MRCC Supervisor, Mr Jared Blows, presented a talk on the role of SAMSA and the MRCC to a work group at the Holiday Inn In Cape Town.

The group comprised of Department Of Transport employees, SAMSA staff, SAPS waterwing staff, NSRI and others involved in the marine industry.

The work group was set up to look at regulations for Non-conventional vessels operating on our coastal and inland waters.

Non-conventional vessels are those vessels less than 500

gross tons. These would include most fishing vessels, yachts and pleasure crafts operating on inland waters.

On the evening of Thursday 21 February Mark Steed, A Search Mission Co-ordinator, gave a presentation to the South African Ships Society at the Ship society in the Table Bay harbour buildings

The presentation was well attended by about 80 people. The South African Ships Society is made up mainly of maritime enthusiasts and ex maritime industry personnel.

The subject of the presentation was the role of the MRCC in global and national search and rescue operations and how the MRCC co-ordinates resources from the NSRI, South African Navy and Air force in SAR.

Also discussed was the global network of SAR, South Africa’s areas of responsibility and the regional role that the South African MRCC plays in protecting vessels in the waters of Namibia, Mozambique and Madagascar.

On the 15th of February Mr Adegboyega Sahib Olopoenia (from Nigeria) and Mr Hemming Hindborg (from Denmark) visited the MRCC offices to conduct an audit as part of the Department of Transport’s IMO Audit Program.
They were pleased with the results of the audit and requested that the MRCC carries out periodic SAR training exercises.
These exercises must be evaluated and the effectiveness of the SAR system assessed and recorded in written reports for future reference


On 29th February the MRCC staff spent the day at River Club in Observatory on a team building exercise.
The staff met at the River Club in the morning and attempted to hit golf balls on the golf range. Afterwards they enjoyed a finger lunch and relaxed before heading back to the office.
The occasion was also a welcome party for the three new Assistant Duty Controllers who have recently joined the team - Judy Brown, Gina dos Santos and Angelique van der Poel. They shall be assisting the Duty Controller in the Ops room with the co-ordination of search and rescue operations at sea.

During the inauguration of MRCC Cape Town as the regional MRCC on 16 January 2007, the Secretary-General of the IMO, Admiral Efthimios E. Mitropoulos commented:

"The waters off South Africa and the other countries in this region have more than often shown their inhospitable face causing many disasters to the detriment of shipping, the loss of precious human lives and the destruction of the marine environment.

Yours is a very heavyduty and burden and, while, I am sure, you will shoulder your responsibilities with commitment, dedication, zeal and enthusiasm, I have some words of advice to say to you: never be complacent, never allow routine and boredom to impair your actions and decisions, never underestimate the seriousness of any distress incident you handle and never consider any incident to be the same as others you dealt with in the past - because each has its own peculiarities and special characteristics that demand special attention. Remain focused and, every time you co-ordinate a SAR operation, give your undivided attention to the task in hand.

And never forget that you represent the last hope of those seafarers for whom fate has in store the bitter experience of a shipwreck. You will be the first they will thank once rescued and safe on solid ground; and you will have their eternal gratitude and that of their families.

I wish you every success and good luck in the discharge of your most important responsibilities. We are proud of you."

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