Mediterranean: 9,384 people rescued in 2021, sea rescuers ready for summer

A rescue at sea with Snsm volunteers (© Cross Med)

The 2021 activity report of the Mediterranean Cross (Regional Operational Center for Surveillance and Rescue in the Mediterranean) details the number and type of operations coordinated or monitored by the operational centers of La Garde (Var) and Aspretto (Ciorse du Sud) in the prefect’s area of ​​competence of the Mediterranean, based in Toulon. This balance sheet reflectsa significant increase of 25% compared to 2020 for the “search and rescue” component of its missions.

The La Garde Cross Med is operational for the Languedoc coast and Roussillon. An operational and specialized service of the Ministry of the Sea, the Mediterranean Regional Operational Center for Surveillance and Rescue (Cross Med) falls organically under the Interregional Directorate for the Mediterranean Sea (Dirm Med), whose headquarters are in Marseille. It is placed under the operational authority of the maritime prefect of the Mediterranean, based in Toulon.

With regard to search and rescue operations in 2021: there were 4,154 coordinated or monitored operations concerning 9,384 people involvedincluding 1,651 rescued, 5,031 people assisted, 37 deceased (including 12 divers and 9 swimmers) and 6 missing ;
76% of operations occur during the summer season (May to September);
94% of operations take place in the coastal zone, at a distance from the coast of less than 12 nautical miles, internal waters or territorial sea; 89% of operations relate to pleasure boating, water sports or leisure activities without a float, including swimming and apnea.

Snsm: 50% of rescues

Numbering 5,315, the Snsm lifeguards on board are distributed in 214 rescue stations, including 188 permanent and 26 seasonal, all along the coast in mainland France and overseas. They sail on request from regional operational surveillance and rescue centers (Cross) in less than 20 minutes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and in all weathers. Each member of the crew has his or her specialty on board: “boss”, “radio”, “mechanic”, “boater”, “rescuer”, “on-board swimmer” or even “on-board diver”. To be perfectly prepared, volunteer lifeguards train throughout the year: 3,995 exercises in 2019. They intervene up to 20 miles from the coast (about 40 km), or even beyond at the express request of the Cross . 22% of interventions take place at night. The Snsm provides 50% of rescue missions by sea.

The qualitative analysis of Cross Med activity shows that the significant increase in the number of operations is mainly linked to a diversification of leisure offers on the coast, particularly in Heraultas well as easier access to new practices. “This assessment also underlines the effect of the development of rental services from individuals to individuals, with regard to yachting for example, with less trained, less experienced lessors, less attentive to safety instructions and the state of mandatory safety equipment to go to sea in good conditions. Furthermore, if the activity of CROSS MED remains mainly seasonal, the number of operations throughout the year also increases outside the period, with a spread of holidays beyond the summer peak”, notes the management of Cross Med.

Other figures: with regard to the geographical distribution of coordinated or monitored interventions: 2,376 operations (57% of the total) concern Bouches-du-Rhône, Var and Alpes-Maritimes; 786 operations for Eastern PyreneesIAudeIHerault and the Gard and 743 operations in Corsica, including 519 for Corse-du-Sud.

196 and channel 16

A few lessons are emerging, a few weeks before the arrival of summer: in nearly 70% of operations, the alert is given by phone 196 (free call, from any phone) for the triggering of operations by the Cross Med, associating several units: firefighters, helicopters (Civil Security, National Gendarmerie, National Navy), volunteers from the Snsm who have stations in the Gard, the Hérault, the ‘Aude and the Pyrénées-Orientales, etc. This number, which tends to become popular, must continue to be advertised in order to be known to as many people as possible, in particular water sports enthusiasts on the coastal fringe. He is complementary to channel 16 of the VHF which remains the preferred method at sea;
human responsibility remains in most cases at the origin of events at sea: inexperience, unconsciousness, lack of technical mastery, lack of preparation and overestimation of physical capacities. When they are not the main cause, these elements intervene at least as aggravating factors; operations related to nautical leisure, in particular “cheap” or deemed accessible to all, are growing year on year and have doubled again in 2021 compared to 2020.

A control at sea off Cap d'Agde in June 2021
A control at sea off Cap d’Agde in June 2021 (©JMA / Metropolitan)

Essential actions

Alongside these search and rescue operations, Cross Med also provides other essential missions for maritime safety and State action at sea, in conjunction with the administrations concerned: surveillance of maritime navigation: prevention of accidents, with in particular the monitoring of maritime traffic in two sensitive areas (Bouches de Bonifacio and the Corsica canal), and environmental protection with, in particular, the monitoring of moorings in the Mediterranean; pollution monitoring: coordination of interventions aimed at facilitating the observation and collection of information with a view to repressing and dealing with discharges of polluting substances into the sea; dissemination of maritime safety information: navigational warnings, weather warnings and weather forecasts.

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Prevention and actions

On the strength of these lessons and the observations already made throughout 2021, the points of attention of the maritime prefecture of the Mediterranean for this summer are the prevention of conflicts of use of nautical motor vehicles (VNM) and fast boats; the regulation of “new uses” and new sporting practices at sea; the question of the rental of pleasure craft and the associated liability; application of regulations on moorings in the Mediterranean. In this context, prevention messagescommunication campaigns, as well as “sea safety” operations will be organized on the Mediterranean coast by the administrations of State action at sea under the authority of the maritime prefect of the Mediterranean. Last summer, “sea safety” operations notably took place off Cap d’Agde. They will be repeated this year between La Grande-Motte and Vendres.

> Practical: more information on Cross Med missions

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