The pressure exerted on merchant shipping by the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean is easing off, according to latest figures, but the secretary-general of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has expressed disappointment that the death toll is rising.
Some 555 refugees and migrants have been picked up by merchant vessels in the Mediterranean so far this year – a huge reduction compared to the 3,717 that were taken onboard ships during 2015, Jan-Christoph Napierski, a representative of the Danish delegation to NATO, told the ICS conference in London today.
Napierski called the reduction “a very positive development”, which he attributed to coordinated military responses such as FRONTEX.
But Peter Hinchliffe, ICS’s secretary-general, reflected on merchant shipping’s involvement in the refugee crisis with some disappointment.
The ICS’s first priority in tackling the crisis in the Mediterranean was to reduce the number of deaths, Hinchliffe said.
The second objective, he continued, was to hold governments to account for their responsibilities for search and rescue operations in order to reduce the burden on the shipping industry.
“I think on the second objective we’ve done pretty well and your numbers show the number of merchant ships being diverted to take part in rescue has reduced markedly and that’s been a very good thing, and there are other units now doing that – mostly government-owned vessels,” said Hinchliffe.
“The bad thing is that the number of deaths on an annual basis is still increasing. My personal view is that as long as Europe is continuing to have the lead in this issue, then we’re not going to reduce the number of deaths because the activity is confined from the end of territorial waters off the north coast of Africa across the Mediterranean into Europe. We’ve been trying very hard to get the United Nations [UN] to get involved in this and we failed,” he went on.
Napierski said it would be good for the UN to show leadership in the crisis, but noted that only European nations have the “appetite” to implement measures to prevent further deaths in the Med. Authorities in Libya do not have the power or assets to tackle the problem and need further support, he said.