Maritime Groups Advocate Humanitarian Efforts


May 2015


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Four major international maritime groups are calling on world heads of state (including heads of government of the European Union and European Economic Area) to ramp up efforts to formulate solutions that will rectify the rapidly escalating humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean Sea.


In a correspondence dated March 31, 2015, officials from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), to which the SIU is affiliated; the European Community Ship owners’ Associations; the European Transport Workers’ Federation; and the International Chamber of Shipping urged world governments to do more to help prevent the loss of life to hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees who routinely cross the Mediterranean from North Africa and the Middle East to Europe.


According to the four organizations – which are supported by global shipping organizations BIMCO, Intercargo, Interferry, InterManager, Intertanko and the World Shipping Council – more than 3,500 people have lost their lives since 2014 while attempting the crossing in overcrowded boats that are not fit for the journey. The organizations asserted that there is a terrible risk of further catastrophic loss of life as ever-more-desperate people attempt this deadly sea crossing.

The groups credited the navies and coast guards of EU member states on the front lines for making impressive efforts to respond to the predicament, but voiced the position that all EU and EEA member states have a collective responsibility to prevent the loss of thousands more lives. They described the need for action on the situation as urgent.


In 2014, merchant ships rescued some 40,000 people who were attempting the crossing, according to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Unless the political situation in Africa and the Middle East improves, however, this number is expected to increase in 2015, UNHCR predicts. Already the situation is so dire that all member states need to become far more engaged, the four international maritime groups said in their letter.


“In short, we believe it is unacceptable that the international community is increasingly relying on merchant ships and seafarers to undertake more and more large-scale rescues, with single ships having to rescue as many as 500 people at a time,” the maritime groups said in their communication. “Commercial ships are not equipped to undertake such large-scale rescues, which also create serious risks to the safety, health and welfare of ships’ crews who should not be expected to deal with such situations.”


The groups’ dispatch pointed out that while all EU and EEA member states have search and rescue (SAR) obligations under international law, state-funded resources for carrying out these responsibilities should increase proportionally as the crisis escalates. In addition to increasing SAR resources, the groups pointed out that there is also a need for a political solution while citing the lawless situations that exist in both Libya and Syria.


“As suggested by UNHCR and other UN agencies including the International Maritime Organization,” the correspondence said, “the shipping industry believes that the EU and the international community need to provide refugees and migrants with alternative means of finding safety without risking their lives by crossing the Mediterranean in unseaworthy boats.”


The groups also requested that—as a matter of urgency—the humanitarian crisis issue be added to the agenda of the European Council and to that of the next relevant meetings of the EU council of Ministers, including Foreign Affairs, Justice and Home Affairs and Transport.




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