Controlling the EU external maritime borders

and saving immigrants’ lives in operations at sea

This regulation sets out the rules for the monitoring of the European Union’s sea borders, the interception of vessels suspected of carrying irregular immigrants and the rescue of those in danger at sea in border surveillance operations under the coordination of Frontex.

656/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 May 2014 establishing rules for the surveillance of the external sea borders in the context of operational cooperation coordinated by the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union.


The objective of the European Union’s external maritime borders policy is to ensure the efficient monitoring of the crossing external borders so as to counter irregular immigration and cross-border crime, while protecting and saving lives at sea.

To this end, sea operations under the supervision of Frontex (the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union) are envisaged to:

detect unauthorised attempts to cross external borders;
intercept vessels suspected of trying to enter the European Union without submitting to border checks and carrying irregular immigrants;
address situations such as search and rescue that may arise during a border surveillance operation at sea;
guarantee the protection of immigrants’ fundamental rights and prevent their expulsion to a country where they might be subject to persecution or danger of death (the principle of non-refoulement).


Specific rules are set out in case of detection of vessels with irregular immigrants on board depending on where the vessels are intercepted (in territorial sea, contiguous zones or high seas). EU countries are able to seize the vessel, apprehend the persons on board and lead the vessel to a coastal country, the host EU country or to a non EU- country provided that this does not put them in danger.

Other rules are set out to manage search and rescue situations to offer assistance to persons in distress at sea and disembark the people who are rescued.

During an operation at sea, assistance must be provided regardless of the nationality or status of the persons to be assisted and in accordance with the relevant international law.


Border surveillance operations are carried out by EU countries with the operational support of Frontex. The agency is responsible for:

coordinating operational cooperation between EU countries;
providing increased technical and operational assistance in case of humanitarian emergencies and rescue at sea.
To this end, an operational plan is prepared containing details adapted to the circumstances of the planned operation at sea. In particular, operational plans must ensure that children and vulnerable persons are provided with appropriate assistance.

Solidarity mechanisms

EU countries subject to strong migratory pressure may request specific help and support from the European Asylum Support Office and the deployment of European Border Guard Teams, in case of an emergency situation.



Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Regulation (EU) No 656/2014


OJ L 189 of 27.6.2014.



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