‘Rescuing migrants at sea remains a health, safety and security risk for seafarers’

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THE Baltic and International Maritime Council, BIMCO, has commended fresh efforts by European Union leaders to reduce increasing reliance on merchant shipping to rescue the growing numbers of distressed migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.

The group also welcomed reported plans to fund rescue operations, adding that it appreciates the contribution of extra ships, planes and helicopters that many countries will use to assist in searching and rescue capabilities of the region.

The deputy secretary general at BIMCO, Lars Robert Pedersen said, “The shipping industry has recently highlighted the risks to the health, safety and security of seafarers who assist distressed migrants in increasingly large numbers. He stated that, Merchant ships are ill-equipped to deal with large-scale rescue operations involving many hundreds of migrants and it may compromise the safety of those onboard as well as those who they attempt to rescue.

He said that, The long term problem of huge migratory flow in the Mediterranean has led to a humanitarian crisis at sea that merchant shipping is not equipped to handle. Migration is an issue for nations to resolve.

He mention that, The industry had called for an expansion of the geographical scope of Operation Triton to include areas where migrants are most likely to be found before they get into serious difficulty.

This does not yet seem to have been addressed. Pedersen stated further that ,“We have realized the issue of migration will not be resolved by these step changes alone. This is why BIMCO will continue to give practical advice to Shipmasters on how to effectively deal with calls for search and rescue assistance.”

Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO),  Koji Sekimizu, recently called for what he described as  ‘coordinated action and commending the contributions of the coast guards and naval forces of Italy and Malta, European Union Operation Triton and the merchant shipping industry in rescuing thousands of migrants,  Sekimizu said: “The deaths of hundreds of migrants drowned in the Mediterranean within sight of a potential rescue ship once again highlight the need for urgent action to be taken against those unscrupulous criminals whose greed and lack of respect for human life allow them to cram hundreds of innocent, desperate people into unsuitable craft with no concern for their safety.

At the same time, I call upon Governments and the wider international community to expedite their efforts to take coordinated action to safeguard migrants and to manage the flow of migrants across borders in ways that do not lead to them being exploited and taken to sea in unsafe craft”.

He added, “The international maritime search and rescue system created through IMO instruments was not designed to handle the huge flows of migrants that are currently being seen in the Mediterranean.

In being compelled to embark these unsafe vessels, migrants are effectively being put into extreme danger as soon as they leave shore. The fact that migrants are drowning within sight of their would-be rescuers is testament to the dangers they face and every effort should be taken to find safer, managed routes for migrants.”

Meanwhile, IMO has agreed on training requirements for seafarers navigating Arctic and Antarctic waters. The requirements are to enhance safety of navigation in polar areas and to ensure that the crew is prepared for the special conditions. Sekimizu said: “We do not seek to prevent migration. People have the human right to migrate.

But it is time to stop illegal, unregulated passage arranged by people smugglers. Not only do they put the lives of the migrants in danger, they also endanger the rescue services and merchant shipping which take part in the rescue operations.

Something needs to be done against the smugglers or the situation will not improve. It is placing an intolerable strain on rescue services and on merchant vessels.” He noted efforts made by Italian and other authorities in the most recent rescue operations, adding that more than 200,000 people were rescued and more than 3,000 reported to have died in unsafe, irregular and illegal sea passages on the Mediterranean during 2014.

The IMO chief in a statement said: “This is a serious issue for IMO and a humanitarian tragedy. There is a strong tradition of search and rescue at sea and this will continue but the search and rescue services provided by a number of countries are overstretched. Even with the contribution of the Italian Navy and Italian Coast Guard, more than 600 merchant ships were diverted last year to go to the support of persons in distress at sea.

“This is beyond acceptable limits and without the Italian efforts many more would have died. The efforts of Italian rescuers – and others – are greatly appreciated but we have reached the point where we need to focus more effort on the prevention side.”   Sekimizu explained that consideration should be given to establishing a database of incidents to help law enforcement agencies to identify, arrest, prosecute and punish smugglers.

The IMO had agreed on a set of new regulations for seafarers navigating Arctic and Antarctic waters. This means that masters and navigating officers must complete special training in order to navigate ships in ice.

One of the requirements is that the seafarers must acquire an improved understanding of the limitations to the crew, ship and the equipment applicable when operating in cold and desolate areas, with poor or no infrastructure in case of, for example, accidents and pollution. The requirements will be incorporated in the STCW Convention, which is the international set of rules regulating the overall education and training requirements for seafarers.

They are expected to enter into force at the turn of the year 2018, but the countries are urged to act faster so that the regulations can become effective when the Polar Code as such enters into force in January 2017.

The training requirements distinguish between two training levels for the crew: a basic level and a more advanced level. In addition, masters and navigating officers of tankers and passenger ships engaged on voyages in ice are required to meet more comprehensive training requirements. Available information indicates that agreement was reached about the proposal for the new set of regulations recently at the second session of the Sub-Committee on Human Element, Training and Watch keeping (HTW).



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