A place of refuge is a place where a ship in need of assistance can take action to enable it to stabilise its condition and reduce the hazards to navigation, and to 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. Because of the many variable factors involved, and the variety of risks, a decision to grant access to a place of refuge can only be taken on a case-by-case basis.
In the aftermath of the MSC Flaminia incident, an expert group was established in 2013, under the chairmanship of the Commission, comprising all EU Member States. This group, which meets regularly, decided to develop EU Operational Guidelines to complement national plans and apply to situations where it is likely that more than one State may become involved, or where the incident falls outside the jurisdiction of any Member State.
The EU Operational Guidelines were drafted with a real operational situation for a vessel in need of assistance in mind, in a common effort including EU Member States, and several industry stakeholders, with the support of the Commission and EMSA. They aim at a robust operational process leading to well-advised and, where possible, quicker decision making. At the same time, they should contribute to promoting positive attitudes – within Governments, authorities, and the industry – for the purposes of Places of Refuge, in the interest of the protection of human life, maritime safety, security and the environment.