Europe’s skewed approach to the Mediterranean Migrant Crisis by Captain John Dalby*
As we observe the tragic events unfold in the Mediterranean, with hundreds, if not thousands, of fleeing migrants dying on a weekly basis, many in the maritime and humanitarian communities are questioning the European response to tackling this vital issue.
The current approach – consisting of a fractured, haphazard and fragmented reaction with naval and merchant vessels scurrying around and offering a necessarily slow response to any particular incident that occurs within the strictly limited range of their radars and, in some cases, UAVs – is costing the governments engaged in these rescues (notably the Italian authorities, of course) many millions of dollars a week, not to mention the uncalculated costs incurred by commercial shipping which is even less well-equipped for such tasks.
Counting the cost
Now – as of last week – we also have the well-meaning but ridiculous sight of a 2, 000-passenger cruise ship berthing at Kos with the sole intention of registering those migrants on that island. Apart from the limited capacity and focus (what about the other locations at which migrants arrive? Should we now expect a fleet of passenger ships being deployed at Lampedusa, Valetta, Augusta, Chios, Mytelene (Lesvos), Samos, Crete………..?), what must that exercise be costing in addition to the £500, 000 reportedly being paid to the vessel’s owner?
Equally importantly, but seemingly overlooked, how comprehensive is the registration process? How confident can we be that those being registered (and not just in Kos, but everywhere else that migrants are being processed) are identified accurately? Can we be certain that embedded jihadists haven’t successfully penetrated the migrant communities, slid through leaky European borders and are, even now, heading towards Northern Europe? The writer warned of this likelihood back in 2014 and was ignored. Perhaps it’s now time to take heed of that wake-up call? And if the Border Agencies are striving to identify potential terrorists, then they should say so – not just to stop them slipping through the net, but also to deter any that may be contemplating taking up residence within our borders, and creating horrific acts of violence and terror.
The vital and valuable work being undertaken by a few NGOs in the region (Sea Watch, Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) and Medecin sans Frontieres (MSF), to name but three) cannot be other than applauded. The generosity of these organisations and their donors, the bravery of their crews, and their high degree of professionalism, warms the hearts of all true seafarers – upholding, as they do, the very best traditions of our ancient profession.
So what’s the answer?
Europe is facing an almost insurmountable task, a humanitarian challenge that must be addressed. Quickly. Efficiently and – above all – effectively.
As implied above, the current operations are less than effective. This is undoubtedly due to the limited capabilities of the waterborne forces (naval, charitable and commercial) being deployed.
Operationally, radar at or near sea level has a limited range. Drones or UAVs boast a slightly longer range but with limited endurance and payload (for sensors).
Neither the human eye or radar can detect a person floating in the water for much more than a few hundred metres – if at all.
All are adversely affected to a greater or lesser degree in poor weather – including moderate sea states.
Arguably most detrimentally, the relatively slow speed of many vessels (anything from 10 knots to 25 knots can be sub-optimal) means a vessel could take up to 5 or 6 hours to reach a distressed craft which could be too late for may of the unfortunates on board a sinking craft, when even a one hour delay could be critical and prove the difference between life and death.
It is acknowledged that governments and government agencies (e.g. Coastguard and Border Force) are under tight financial controls and limitations and there is a complete lack of nation-state MPA (Maritime Patrol Aircraft) resources.
Nevertheless, what is required is a highly sophisticated airborne approach to this problem. An aircraft equipped with military grade sensors (HD Cameras, EO/IR sensors, SAR radars and highly skilled and trained flight crew and onboard operators) can be immediately deployed to detect, locate and guide a seaborne asset (whether military or NGO), via MRCC, Rome to a precise location.
Considering that such a platform, flying at 10, 000 feet can accurately cover a sea area of around 130, 000 square miles at any one time, and pinpoint a human head (or a soft drinks can) from 10 miles, and a RIB from 20 miles, it becomes clear that assets can be rapidly and accurately directed to the scene. This co-ordinated and integrated approach will turn the tide of migrant deaths almost immediately. Furthermore, such patrols can also identify vessels of all types, sizes and construction before they even set off from their beach embarkation point. The fact that this can be achieved day or night, and in most weather and visibility conditions and with 100% cloud cover, is another impressive and vital capability.
And the savings?
And the weekly cost? Less than one-tenth of that cruise ship charter. And that’s not even taking into account the huge reduction in fuel costs for the vessels engaged in the rescues.
By far the biggest satisfaction to be gained, however, will be the saving of untold hundreds, if not thousands, of human lives. Men, women and children escaping the horrors of war and destruction. No price or value can be placed on that result.
When can this game-changer take place?
Marine Risk Management Limited (MRM) has been serving the international maritime community since 1986 (almost 30 years), and specialises in counter-piracy, emergency seaborne evacuations, and asset recovery operations. MRM also owns and operates the Globalert programme – the premier rapid-deployment airborne reconnaissance and surveillance Special Mission unit.
*Captain John Dalby, AFNI, is CEO of Marine Risk Management Ltd (established 1986)
The views expressed herein are those of the author and MRM alone, and should not be construed to reflect any government, agency or other third party’s policies or strategies. Any questions or queries may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org or to the author, Captain John Dalby, AFNI at email@example.com quoting “Globalert” in the Subject field.