London: EU leaders have taken a step in the right direction to tackle the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean Sea, but more must be done to save lives, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA) say.
EU foreign and interior ministers met at an emergency meeting in Luxembourg on Monday to discuss a 10-point plan to tackle the growing humanitarian crisis.
The politicians elected to triple the resources of the existing Triton search and rescue operation, which will include additional vessels and planes.
Triton remains within the mandate of the EU border agency FRONTEX, which the ICS and ECSA say raises serious questions about the extent to which the operation can ensure the immediate prevention of further loss of life.
“EU leaders have agreed to increase resources and assets available for search and rescue operations, within the mandate of Frontex,” Patrick Verhoeven, ECSA’s secretary general, said today.
“Laudable as these efforts are, they still fall short of the scale and mandate of last year’s Italian operation Mare Nostrum, which saved hundreds of thousands of people in 2014,” he continued.
“What is needed immediately is a similar, EU-led, large-scale search and rescue mission, able to operate far from the EU territorial waters, which is where most of the accidents involving migrants take place.”
The operational capabilities of Triton are still insufficient to deal with the problems at hand, commented Peter Hinchliffe, secretary general of the London-based ICS.
“We understand that the resources of Triton can be deployed in international waters when called upon by national Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres, but it remains highly doubtful whether they can rapidly reach areas near the Libyan coast, where most incidents tend to occur,” Hinchliffe said.
“It seems that merchant ships, which are not best equipped to rescue hundreds of people at a time, will continue to be called upon frequently to respond to requests for assistance. A clear mandate for humanitarian rescue operations by EU States still appears to be outstanding.”
Earlier this week, the two organisations welcomed the EU summit and expressed their hopes for positive outcomes.
The merchant shipping industry has participated in almost 1,000 migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean over the past 16 months.