A place of refuge is a place where a ship that needs help can take action to stabilize its condition and reduce the risks to navigation, and protect human life and the environment. It may include a port, a place of shelter near the coast, an inlet, a lee shore, a cove, a fjord or a bay or any part of the coast.

According to the IMO Guidelines on Places of Refuge, when a ship has sustained damage:

The best way of preventing damage or pollution from its progressive deterioration would be to lighten its cargo and bunkers; and to repair the damage. Such an operation is best carried out in a place of refuge as it is rarely possible to deal satisfactorily and effectively with a marine casualty in open sea conditions.

After recent maritime incidents involving ships in distress in waters outside the jurisdiction of any one State, the European Union, along with the European Commission and the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), reviewed the framework for co-operation and co-ordination between States in such cases, to improve the existing arrangements. As a matter of principle, each State involved in the response operation should examine their ability to provide a place of refuge.

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As a matter of principle, each State involved in the operation must examine their ability to provide a place of refuge.

A place of refuge request cannot be refused for commercial or financial reasons, nor should commercial interests become the main driver for the handling of PoR requests, or the selection of a potential PoR. Unless deemed unsafe, there should be no rejection without inspection.

The new Guidelines require national plans for accommodation of ships in need of help, to include "procedures for international coordination and decision-making" and for Member States and the Commission to cooperate in creating plans to accommodate ships in need of assistance, as required by the VTMIS Directive.

See the full Guidelines on places of refuge, in the following PDF