TradeWinds Nov 25, 2014
Seafarers’ Rights International (SRI) has warned that merchant ships could be forced to rescue more and more migrants in the Mediterranean due to European budget cuts.
The independent centre for crew rights has raised concerns about the implications for masters of the new Triton operation that it claims will have less money to spend on border operations than the Italian-led Mare Nostrum programme it is replacing.
This operation has been credited with saving more than 150,000 migrants in the Mediterranean.
The independent centre’s executive director Deirdre Fitzpatrick said the practice of merchant vessels helping people in distress was enshrined in the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS) in 1914 after the Titanic sinking.
“This is a serious obligation on masters and under many national laws, the master who fails to render assistance to any person in danger of being lost at sea could face prosecution, and on conviction, a jail sentence,” she added.
“However, a master must be equally cognisant of his duty to protect the lives of his own crew and passengers and not to expose them to risks including risks of infection such as Ebola that may arise when he rescues people at sea.”
More than 600 vessels have diverted from their routes to carry out rescues so far this year.
These deviations are detrimental to shipping and are not offset by any realistic prospects of salvage awards, SRI said.
It added any reduction in search and rescue by governments may increase the number of incidents to which merchant ships have to respond, with consequent burdens and legal responsibilities on masters and crews.