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SAR 2012: EU moots plan for unified European coast guard

16th March 2012 - 09:22 GMT | by Tony Skinner in Dublin, Ireland

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The European Union is investigating the possibility of a unified coast guard, bringing together national assets and offering SAR as a 'functional service' across Europe.

A European Coast Guard feasibility study has been launched by the European Commission, and is expected to go to contract at the end of the year and be completed by the end of 2013.

Speaking at the SAR Europe conference on 15 March, Chris Reynolds, director of the Irish Coast Guard, said the study, which is being led by DG Move, was currently having its terms of reference defined and would examine how to offer a standardised SAR service across Europe.

'The European Union is going to have to show that such a unified coast guard can bring improved effectiveness and efficiencies, at a reduced cost for the member states to sign up to this. Looking at the coast guard as a function, what is the best way to link groups of assets together to offer that service?' Reynolds said.

Stressing in his presentation that it was a personal view and the Irish government had yet to take an official position on the possible creation of a European Coast Guard, Reynolds outlined the possible areas of collaboration the feasibility study would examine, including the structured cooperation between national organisations at the operational level, ad hoc coordination in how nations offer their SAR services and permanent coordination in certain areas. As one example, he highlighted the greater buying power Ireland and the UK could gain by working together when renewing assets.

This is not the first time the EU has examined the concept of a unified coast guard and a previous study stalled before offering any firm recommendations to the commission.

Indeed, Reynolds admitted that a number of challenges stood in front of any effective changes being made in the sector, such as the fact that SAR policy at the member state level was often spread across many government departments and 'it is reasonable to say that many countries have only began to consider the concepts involved'.

One possible vehicle for change is the European Coast Guard Functions Forum, which is a non-binding, non-political forum of the various heads of coast guard services across each EU maritime nation and associated Schengen nation. An examination of Europe's response to the Costa Concordia evacuation may also highlight the need for greater collaboration at the governmental level.

However, Reynolds noted that there was potential for disagreement across the various European directorates, and there was no clear concept yet across member states as to where the savings will arise and what gaps and threats the forum could address.

'Personally, I believe there are significant gains to be made by closer integration,' he argued. 'But my own feeling is that there is no impetus for change among the member states. They need some motivation to change - there is currently no impetus or person in charge of all this. But if a sense of urgency does develop then we do have the possibility of developing a new unified coast guard.'

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