London: The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has warned that EU governments must act now before the lives of thousands more migrants are lost in the Mediterranean.
More must be done to support the Italy’s search and rescue (S&R) operation, as well as that of Greece, Malta, Cyprus and Turkey, the ICS said in a statement today.
Increasing numbers of migrants and refugees have been attempting to cross the Mediterranean sea to mainland Europe in boats that are unfit for purpose and largely operated by people smugglers.
At least 3,500 people died while attempting to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa in 2014, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Merchant ships rescued around 40,000 people in the region last year.
“This number is predicted to increase dramatically during 2015 if the political situation in Africa and the Middle East further deteriorates,” the ICS said in a statement today.
Italy’s humanitarian ‘Mare Nostrum’ operation has been replaced by the EU-funded Triton operation, which focuses primarily on border protection and operates with very limited resources. This has increased the burden of responsibility on ships and their crews to rescue migrants in distress, the ICS says.
“The response to the crisis by the Italian Navy and Coast Guard continues to be incredibly impressive,” said ICS secretary general, Peter Hinchliffe. “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.”
The ICS says it is also concerned that ships full of migrants are sometimes being left to navigate in congested waters without qualified persons in charge.
Concerted action must be taken to prevent criminals from using unsafe craft to transport migrants, the ICS says, otherwise there must be a big increase in state-funded resources for coastal states’ search and rescue (SAR) operations in the Mediterranean. “Other EU member states need to share the burden in order to help prevent thousands more deaths,” the chamber said.
“Some ships have had to rescue as many as 500 people at a time, with serious implications for the welfare of ships’ crews given the health and security issues involved in dealing with such large numbers. This goes well beyond what should reasonably be expected of merchant seafarers,” Hinchliffe said today.
The chamber plans to voice these concerns at a high-level United Nations inter-agency meeting on the crisis, which is being hosted by IMO in London tomorrow.