As Europe’s migrant agenda is unveiled, international shipping and the UN call on Southeast Asian governments to ensure they meet their search and rescue obligations under international law.
Speaking to IHS Maritime on 15 May, secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping, Peter Hinchliffe, said significant problems and solutions for migrant rescue lie further afield than European policy.
Disembarkation of migrants is being refused by some Southeast Asian countries with currently several thousand people believed to be stranded on smugglers’ boats in the Andaman Sea and Straits of Malacca. The situation is untenable for commercial ships called on to rescue migrants in the region.
Hinchliffe said that international shipping needs a mechanism that will hold “coastal States to their SAR obligations in international law”.
“The provision of a port of disembarkation for ships that have rescued migrants remains paramount. The situation in the Malacca Straits and off Thailand and Indonesia where migrant boats are not being allowed in must be avoided,” he said.
The problem was officially highlighted to the global community on 14 May by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, who issued a statement calling on Southeast Asian governments “to ensure that the obligation of rescue at sea is upheld and the prohibition on refoulement [forcible return of refugees to countries where they could face persecution] is maintained”.
He urged those governments “to facilitate timely disembarkation and keep their borders and ports open in order to help the vulnerable people who are in need”.
In Europe, the long-awaited increase in funding for border patrol operation Triton has fallen short of what was promised in April when a tripling of the original budget (EUR34.8 million) was announced.
Europe’s migration agenda unveiled this week increased the budget for Europe’s border patrol to EUR89 million for 2015, more than double the original amount but EUR15.4 million short of what was expected.
A new operational strategy will be announced at the end of May, which will be a key element in the success of Triton to be not only a border patrol force but to also save lives – a function that EU leaders are keen to stress.
Peter Hinchliffe said that operational scope was essential and that more funding alone would not solve the problem.
He said, “Certainly the increased allocation of funds to Triton is part of the mitigation of the current situation, however, no matter how well funded, Triton is useless if it is operating in the wrong area.
“Triton units need to be deployed close to the Libyan coast in the region where most migrants are abandoned by the traffickers.
“More units in the right place will help to unburden merchant ships,” he said, conceding that merchant ships “will almost inevitably provide first responder support in many cases as the distribution of merchant ships is wider than the rescue ships”.
He praised the work of private enterprise Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) and its new partnership with international medical charity Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières – MSF).
“The joint operation between MOAS and MSF is already doing useful work and is to be applauded,” said Hinchliffe.
The two organisations joined forces for search and rescue on 4 May, and reported rescuing 369 migrants that day.