6 March 2015

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has called on EU Member States to engage more on search and rescue in the Mediterranean and to provide legal and safe channels for migrants and refugees to reach Europe.

Ahead of an inter-agency high-level meeting hosted by the International Maritime Organisation (IOM) this week, Peter Hinchliffe, Secretary General of the ICS said: “The response to the crisis by the Italian Navy and Coast Guard continues to be incredibly impressive. But the situation is now so serious that all EU Member States need to become more engaged. The shipping industry’s concern is that, following the end of Mare Nostrum, other governments are increasingly relying on merchant ships to undertake more and more large-scale rescues” said.

“The EU, in particular, needs to provide refugees and migrants with alternative means of finding safety without risking their lives by crossing the Mediterranean in boats that are unseaworthy and operated by unscrupulous criminals. It is imperative to avoid the impression that a potentially fatal sea crossing in a tiny overcrowded boat is the only realistic pathway to Europe,” Hinchliffe added.

According to ICS, in 2014, 800 commercial ships rescued approximately 40,000 migrants in danger at sea

During the conference in London, UNHCR recommended exploring the possibility of compensating shipping companies for losses incurred from rescuing people in danger at sea. Volker Türk, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, argued that a “robust State-led international search-and-rescue operation with a clear humanitarian and life-saving mandate” should be established in the Mediterranean and in other areas where similar operations are required. UNHCR stressed the need to step up resettlement and other mechanisms to provide appropriate avenues for those who are in need of protection. 

The Secretary General of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), Koji Sekimizu, noted that “merchant ships generally have small crews and are not configured to carry, feed and care for large number of people” and underlined the risks for the safety of migrants and the crew of merchant ships when they engage in large scale rescue operations.

This week, seven rescue operations were carried out by the Italian coast guard and navy along with three commercial ships. A total of 941 migrants and refugees were rescued, including Syrians, Palestinians, and Sub-Saharan Africans. The migrants were travelling on five plastic dinghies and two boats Ten people died, raising the death toll to at least 380 people for 2015.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 6 March 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.