In advance of the emergency EU Council Summit tomorrow (Thursday 23 April) to address the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, the European and global shipping industries insist that the urgent priority is for EU Member States to immediately launch a proper EU Search and Rescue operation with sufficient resources to prevent the further loss of thousands more lives.
The shipping industry says that the decision taken by EU Foreign Ministers to bolster the FRONTEX-led Triton mission is a step in the right direction, but potentially falls short of the need for an operation with similar resources and geographical scope as the Italian Mare Nostrum operation which was suspended last year.
Following the terrible tragedy last weekend, the shipping industry, the citizens of Europe, and the wider international community, expect the leaders of Europe to act decisively and to maintain the new momentum for something to be done.
In Brussels, Patrick Verhoeven, Secretary General of the European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA) commented:
“The shipping industry recognises that the underlying issues are very complex. But when dealing with the imminent life or death of thousands of people, fast and decisive action is needed to avoid further escalation of the problem.”
He added “Ideally we need an EU operation similar to Mare Nostrum, but the critical thing is that Search and Rescue resources, rather than border control resources, are increased now, and that they are increased immediately – not later in the year or even in a few weeks’ time.”
Peter Hinchliffe, Secretary General of the London-based International Chamber of Shipping commented:
“When we talk about increased Search and Rescue operations, we mean increasing the number of coastguard and other appropriate vessels that are immediately available to help, and expanding the geographical area of patrols to those areas where migrants are most likely to be found before they get into serious difficulty.”
He added “When called upon to assist, merchant ships will always come to the aid of anyone in distress at sea, but as the tragic events of the weekend seem to have shown, merchant ships are really not best equipped to deal with such large-scale operations involving hundreds of people.”
The membership of ECSA and ICS comprises the world’s national shipowners’ associations in Europe and globally, representing more than 80% of the world merchant fleet. At the beginning of April, ECSA and ICS, supported by seafarers’ unions, wrote to EU leaders calling for action – see here.