At the 2009 Ministerial Meeting in Tromsø, the Arctic Council decided to establish a Task Force with a mandate to develop an international instrument on cooperation on Search and Rescue operations in the Arctic. The Task Force, co-chaired by Ambassador Anton Vasiliev of the Russian Federation and Ambassador David Balton of the United States, met five times: in Washington (December 2009), in Moscow (February 2010), in Oslo (June 2010), in Helsinki (October 2010), and in Reykjavik (December 2010).
The Task Force concluded its work by elaborating the Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic. The Agreement is the first legally binding instrument negotiated under the auspices of the Arctic Council. It also represents the first legally binding agreement on any topic ever negotiated among all the eight Arctic states. The signature of the Agreement in Nuuk demonstrates the commitment of those states to enhance their cooperation in addressing emerging issues in the Arctic region.
The negotiation of the Agreement proceeded in a highly collaborative spirit, with all governments committed to a positive outcome. For each Party, the Agreement defines an area of the Arctic in which it will have lead responsibility in organizing responses to search and rescue incidents. The Agreement also commits Parties to provide appropriate assistance in the event of such an incident and to take other steps address growing search and rescue needs in the Arctic region.
Following signature of the Agreement in Nuuk, each Arctic Council Member will undertake the necessary internal procedures required for its entry into force. Canada will serve as Depositary for the Agreement, which will enter into force 30 days after the Depositary has received notification from all eight Members that they have completed their respective internal procedures.
Canada is also organizing a table top exercise among search and rescue agencies of the Arctic Council Members as a first step toward implementation of the Agreement. The Table Top Exercise will be held on October 5-6, 2011, in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada.