A special naval search and rescue center began operations Sunday under the auspices of the Transportation Ministry's Ports Authority, as Israel joined the world's leading maritime nations running search and rescue centers for vessels stranded at sea. Road Safety and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said the center's tasks would include rescuing stranded vessels and protecting the seas from pollution. The 24-hour Rescue Coordination Center will constantly listen for distress frequencies and will also receive special signals in cases of attacks by pirates or other hostile forces. The center will deal with emergency incidents in a range of 40 miles from Israel's Mediterranean coasts and 20 miles from Eilat. Modern, sophisticated wireless communications systems will be activated in the RCC control rooms to enable the Ports Authority to monitor every vessel in the area of the ocean under its supervision. Italy, Spain, France, Turkey and Greece already operate similar centers. The establishment of the RCC came at a cost of some four million shekels. It is manned by officers from Israel's merchant fleet and navy veterans who have technological and tactical expertise of directing and coordinating search and rescue missions at sea. They were trained in Malta by members of the US Coast Guard.