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Sea rescue of migrants “an obligation”

Commenting on reports that some EU
ministers have expressed concerns that search and rescue operations have acted
as a “pull factor” for illegal migration, encouraging people to make dangerous
crossings in the expectation of rescue, the International Chamber of Shipping
(ICS) has noted that merchant ships are legally required to rescue persons in
distress at sea by the IMO’s SOLAS convention, to which virtually every
maritime nation is a party.

“The rescue of all persons in distress at sea – including
illegal migrants – is an obligation under international maritime law, as well
as being a long established humanitarian duty,” said the ICS. 
“Whatever policy makers in EU
Member States may decide, the legal and humanitarian obligation of merchant
ships to provide assistance to anyone in distress at sea will remain
Under SOLAS and the International
Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, the obligation of the ship Master to
render assistance is complemented by a corresponding obligation of IMO member
states to co-operate in rescue situations, thereby relieving the Master of the
responsibility to care for survivors, and allowing individuals who are rescued
at sea in such circumstances to be delivered promptly to a place of safety.
The ICS also expressed concern at
reports that the new EU Frontex operation ‘Triton’ will have a third of the
budget of the operation it replaces, and that its primary focus will be border
control with search and rescue operations possibly reduced in international
“It will clearly be much more
difficult for merchant ships to save lives at sea without the adequate
provision of search and rescue services by EU Member States,” continued the
“Moreover, whenever a ship
performs its legal and humanitarian obligations, it will continue to be
incumbent on EU Member States to ensure that rescued survivors can be readily
disembarked at the next port of call, even when they may lack documentation.”
ICS is the global trade
association for commercial ship operators, whose ships are currently involved
on a daily basis in the rescue of refugees at sea in the Mediterranean.
Source: Baird Maritime.

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