The European Council has announced that it will triple the funding and assets of Europe’s border patrol operations, but the shipping industry has responded that this will not be sufficient to tackle the mass irregular migration in the Mediterranean Sea.
In statements issued from the European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA), the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), and the German Shipowners’ Association (VDR), the industry responded to the European Council’s announcement made yesterday after its second crisis meeting, in Brussels.
As well as tripling the “financial and material resources” of operations Triton and Poseidon, it repeated its aim to launch “systematic actions to identify, intercept, and destroy boats used for human smuggling”. The European Member states also want to offer support to third countries to help them reinforce land and sea border surveillance.
Welcoming the search and rescue development, the shipping industry is nevertheless concerned that Europe’s sea operations still fall within Frontex – essentially a border patrol operation. It says that even when tripled it will still fall short of what is required, which is an operation equivalent to the 2014 Italian Mare Nostrum operation.
ICS secretary general Peter Hinchliffe said: “We understand that the resources of Triton can be deployed in international waters when called upon by national Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres, but it remains highly doubtful whether they can rapidly reach areas near the Libyan coast, where most incidents tend to occur. It seems that merchant ships, which are not best equipped to rescue hundreds of people at a time, will continue to be called upon frequently to respond to requests for assistance. A clear mandate for humanitarian rescue operations by EU States still appears to be outstanding.”
Patrick Verhoeven, Secretary General of ECSA, commented: “What is needed immediately is a [Mare Nostrum style], EU-led, large-scale search and rescue mission, able to operate far from the EU territorial waters, which is where most of the accidents involving migrants take place.”
According to VDR, German naval vessels have rescued over 5,000 refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. The association’s CEO Ralf Nagel, said: “The announced means for search and rescue missions can only be the start. The deployment area of EU search and rescue (SAR) missions must be extended significantly in the direction of the Libyan coastline.”
He welcomed the decision by Chancellor Angela Merkel to send naval forces to the Mediterranean Sea “at short notice to pick up and give refugees medical attention”, adding: “Our seafarers are doing everything they can to rescue boat refugees in distress at sea; we are legally and morally committed to do so. However, without massive support by state SAR forces of the EU, numerous people will continue to lose their lives on the Mediterranean Sea.”
VDR’s statement also noted that SAR missions “represent major physical and mental strain for seafarers because refugees keep drowning before their very eyes or die of hypothermia on board the ships. Despite all preparations, maritime vessels are not equipped for SAR and medical treatment of sometimes several hundreds of refugees.”
VDR recorded that in the last several days, “more than 10,000 boat refugees have been rescued by maritime shipping vessels and the Italian Coast Guard”.
Frontex maintains that it is a search and rescue as well as a border control operation. A FAQ sheet available on the European Union website states that its remit includes to “save lives”.
It points out that Regulation 656/2014, which establishes the rules for the surveillance of the external sea borders in the context of operational co-operation co-ordinated by Frontex, states: “Border surveillance is not limited to the detection of attempts at unauthorised border crossings but equally extends to […] arrangements intended to address situations such as search and rescue that may arise.”
It goes on to say that Article 3 of this regulation specifies that: “Measures taken for the purpose of a sea operation shall be conducted in a way that, in all instances, ensures the safety of the persons intercepted or rescued, the safety of the participating units or that of third parties.”
The budget of Joint Operation ‘Triton’ for 2015 is EUR18.25 million (USD19.6 million) at EUR2.9 million per month, so this should rise to USD19.5 million per year and USD3.1 million per month. Joint Operation ‘Poseidon Sea’, which provides maritime border surveillance using technical equipment and experts provided by the member states to reduce the threat of illegal immigration at Greece’s (EU) external borders, was due to receive EUR5.2 million for 2015; tripled, this becomes EUR15.7 million .
Current resources for Triton are: four fixed-wing aircrafts, one helicopter, four open shore vessels, one coastal patrol vessel, two coastal patrol boats. Human resources are: 65 men.
Poseidon Sea currently has: six mobile offices, one fixed wing aircraft; one thermo-vision vehicle, seven coastal patrol boats, and three coastal patrol vessels. Human resources are: 10 guest officers.