European and global shipowner groups and seafarer unions have banded together to urge EU Member States to take immediate action to address the growing humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean Sea.
Since 2014, hundreds of thousands of migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe in overcrowded, unseaworthy boats, resulting in the loss of thousands of lives.
In a joint letter to leaders of all 28 EU Members States, the European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA), the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF), the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) have warned that the crisis is spiraling out of control, and that we can expect further catastrophic loss of life unless EU Member States respond with greater urgency.
The shipowner groups and unions are calling on all EU Member States to give immediate priority to increasing resources for Search and Rescue operations, in view of the very large number of potentially dangerous rescues now being conducted by merchant ships.
According to a joint statement about the letter, in 2014 merchant ships rescued around 40,000 people, with the number expected to increase dramatically. While the shipping industry fully accepts its legal responsibility to rescue anyone in distress at sea, the industry argues that it is unacceptable that the international community increasingly relies on merchant ships and their crews to undertake more and more large-scale rescues. Single ships have had to rescue as many as 500 people at a time, creating serious risks to the health and welfare of seafarers who are unprepared and untrained to take on such rescues, the statement said.
While the shipowners recognize that navies and coastguards of those EU Member States on the front lines have made impressive efforts to respond, the situation continues to get worse. The shipping industry believes there must be a commensurate increase in State funded resources for Search and Rescue operations, meaning that all EU Member States need to share the financial burden.
The shipping industry also suggests 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 shipping industry says that the development of solutions to this crisis must be treated as an absolute priority as “it is literally a matter of life and death”. The shipowners’ representatives and unions are therefore requesting that this issue should be added, as a matter of real urgency, to the agenda of the European Council and relevant meetings of EU Ministers.