IRRC No. 902

The duty to rescue at sea, in peacetime and in war: A general overview

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The duty to rescue persons in distress at sea is a fundamental rule of international law. It has been incorporated in international treaties and forms the content of a norm of customary international law. It applies both during peacetime and during wartime, albeit with the necessary adjustments to take into account the different circumstances. States are also under the duty to provide search and rescue services. This article discusses the content and limitations of these provisions and assesses their potential to ensure the protection of human lives at sea. Furthermore, the article suggests that reference to the right to life, as protected in international human rights law, may be useful in further safeguarding human life and ensuring compliance by States with their duties.

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