The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) says the shipping industry is ‘deeply concerned’ about the apparent new policy of the Italian government to close its ports to humanitarian migrant rescue vessels operating in the Mediterranean Sea.
The strong statement from the ICS comes after Italy (and Malta) refused port access to the M/V Aquarius with more than 600 migrants rescued off the coast Libya. Spain on Monday offered to take in the vessel.
The ICS nows says the refusal by Italy to allow rescued persons to disembark could have serious implications for the safety and welfare of “these distressed people”, including children and pregnant women, the ICS said. Media has reported the M/V Aquarius’ passengers include 11 children and seven pregnant women.
Over the last several years, Italy has emerged as ground zero for Mediterranean boat migrants landing in Europe, taking in more than 600,000 of them since 2014. However, Italy’s new populist government, which took control just this month, seems to have taken a hard stance against the arrival of these migrants by boat.
“To its great credit, the government of Italy has consistently permitted prompt and predictable disembarkation of people rescued by merchant ships as well as by vessels operated by humanitarian NGOs. But following the election of the new Italian Government, the crisis now seems to be taking an ever more political direction,” the ICS statement read,
European Union law requires asylum seekers to register in the first safe country they reach.
The ICS says Italy’s move to prohibit humanitarian vessels packed with rescued migrants will inevitably lead to added pressure on merchant ships to carry out rescues at sea.
“If NGO vessels are prevented from disembarking rescued persons in Italy, this would also have significant implications for merchant ships and the movement of trade throughout the Mediterranean, as merchant ships would again have to become involved in a greater number of rescues,” the ICS said.
Under the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS), merchant ships are committed to come to the rescue of any person in distress at sea.
According to the ICS, since the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean escalated three years ago, over 50,000 people have already been rescued by merchant ships, with many more rescued by military vessels and boats operated by humanitarian NGOs.
“The primary concern of shipowners is humanitarian. In the interest of protecting safety of life at sea, ICS is therefore calling on all EU Member States to urgently address the legitimate concerns raised by the Italian government about the large number of rescued persons arriving in Italy, in order that the policy of prompt and predictable disembarkation – consistent with UNHCR principles – can be fully maintained, not just in Italy but in other EU Member States too,” commented ICS Secretary General, Peter Hinchliffe.