Intermanager and ECSA have taken the initiative to organise a seminar on the escalating humanitarian crisis involving migrants at sea during the upcoming European Shipping Week. Commission officials, MEPs and Member States’ representations will meet with industry representatives and other stakeholders to exchange views and discuss possible ways forward.
According to official EU figures, in 2014, a total of 276, 113 illegal migrants crossed the Mediterranean sea, heading to countries such as Italy, Cyprus and Greece. Astonishingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, these numbers are up by 155% compared to the previous year when a total of 107, 964 migrants undertook the same perilous journey. As recent events clearly demonstrate, these extremely dangerous crossings often result in mass drowning of people fleeing various regions in Europe’s vicinity that find themselves in a state of turmoil.
Shipping companies have been thrust to centre stage by often being the first ones arriving at the scene of a maritime accident involving migrants, in order to provide assistance to those in distress. EU shipping companies take their humanitarian role of assisting any person at sea faced with grave danger very seriously, as is besides foreseen in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. However it appears that while the situation deteriorates and an increasing number of migrants attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea, EU Member States have not stepped up their efforts to meet the ensuing increased need for patrolling and search and rescue operations. While Italy recently decided to end its year-long Mare Nostrum mission to rescue stricken migrants, Operation Triton, which was launched with the help of the EU’s border protection agency Frontex, has a limited mandate and can only focus on border surveillance within 30 miles of the Italian coast.
It goes without saying that search and rescue operations cannot be adequately performed by merchant vessels on a permanent basis, as crews are ill-prepared and untrained to conduct such operations, while cargo ships are scantily equipped to accommodate dozens of additional people on board who are often in need of medical assistance. Moreover there are important security sanitary and hygiene-related concerns to be taken into account when allowing migrants on board.
Scaling-back efforts is deplorable as it leaves a gap which has de facto been filled by shipping companies. Search and rescue operations are sovereign functions and entrusting them to the industry is as dangerous as it is irresponsible. The situation has today moved beyond the question of whether or not a large scale rescue operation in the Mediterranean has a “pull factor” for refugees, as latest figures indicate that even during the winter months, following the end of the Mare Nostrum operation, the number of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean has only increased. EU Member States must act now.
The Intermanager/ECSA seminar will take place on March 2nd, 2015, from 13.00 to 17.00 at the Maltese Permanent Representation to the EU at Rue Archimède 25, in Brussels. To register for the Intermanager/ECSA event and find out more please visit: https://www.