A marked increase in state and NGO search and rescue provision in the central Mediterranean is taking the pressure off commercial vessels in the region, IHS Maritime has been informed.
Speaking to IHS Maritime after participating this weekend in a rescue of more than 6,000 migrants, Brigadier Martin Xuereb, director at Malta-based search and rescue enterprise Migrant Offshore Aid Station, said: “There are more assets out there than last year and more than the beginning of the year, so I think the involvement [of commercial ships] is less than anticipated at the beginning of this year, in say March or April.”
Assets that MOAS reports as involved in search and rescue (SAR) operations in the central Mediterranean are operated by a number of private and state actors, including: Médecins Sans Frontières, Sea-Watch, the Norwegian Lifeboat Association, the United Kingdom, Germany, Ireland, Sweden, and Norway.
“There are now additional state vessels and so obviously that is taking a lot of the load off merchant ships,” which last weekend meant that no commercial vessels were needed in the mass rescue of people from five boats, said Brgdr Xureb.
Describing the rescue, he said, “We were involved in the rescue of around 2,000 [of the 6,000] and were the first to arrive; we were there for about three hours on our own managing these five boats at one go and then the Germans arrived, an Italian state vessel arrived, and an Irish ship arrived, so had it not been for those ships, probably at least some of that load would have been taken up by the merchant ships. So in that instance we took almost 400 and the others were shared amongst the other state vessels.”
MOAS media manager Christian Peregin said, “The response that we are seeing out at sea today is a positive one compared to where we were back in January and February.
“A real shift has been witnessed and everyone is working well together.
“As the most experienced or professional outfit out there, we are really eager to co-operate and to share with these and to make sure that everything is being done as well as it can be in terms of co-operation and co-ordination.
“When you compare to the situation earlier this year where practically all the European states had come to the conclusion that search and rescue should not exist, I think that has changed significantly and you have a lot more participation and very active participation, very proud participation.” He singled out the United Kingdom’s HMS Bulwark for praise, “They are clearly very proud of what they are doing and they are doing a great job,” said Peregin.
MOAS has been active in providing information to the world’s media, enabling global media outlets to travel on board its SAR vessel Phoenix. The organisation will also be involved in a new United Kingdom/Malta migrant flow data collection initiative announced today, which could have benefits for maritime intelligence gathering and forecasting.
The Mediterranean Observatory on Migration, Protection, and Asylum (MOMPA) is a joint venture between Middlesex’s London and Malta campuses, and Kingston University that will collate and analyse data on migrant flows. It aims on improving information sharing to inform European-wide migration policy.
Mark Micaleff is the executive editor of a new website Migrant Report, which will launch next week to carry MOMPA’s data analysis to the public on a regular basis.
He told IHS Maritime that the project will obtain its data by talking directly to migrants, “partnering” with those on the move. The project will stand out from other data collection initiatives, through providing insight about migrant flows “week by week”.
“The key thing is to have a dynamic picture of what is going on. We know where the migration routes are, but we don’t have a week by week picture of these migration groups, and that is key.
“If you want to know what is going to happen next week or next month, it’s not enough to have information about how migrants passed through, say, Kufra six months or two years ago. You want to know how they’re going through now and in what numbers and which nationalities, what their treatment is like and so on.”
From the maritime perspective, Micaleff said a question he hopes MOMPA will help to answer is how big the potential flow of migrants is from Libya, which is the first country that the project will focus in on. He believes that current estimates are no better than “assumptions”.
“Frontex recently claimed that there are between 500,000 and 1 million migrants waiting to cross on the shores of the Western side of Libya. The range of this estimation is too large, but this figure has been recycled by the British press. I just came from Zuwarah, Misurata, and Tripoli and I picked up no information on an abnormal mass influx of people in these areas,” said Micaleff.
“It’s like me telling you that I believe some day there will be settlements on Mars. There might be, but it means nothing: it’s too much of an approximation to say it. Can we get an estimate of how many migrants are in Libya right now, which is more accurate than 500,000 or 1 million? We think the answer is yes, and we think the way to do this is to partner with migrants themselves,” he said.
He concluded, “Basically it is to have a more intelligent analysis of the situation. Unfortunately, very often we rely on assumptions, which are just that: assumptions. With all the money, resources, and creative power in the EU, I think we can do much more than that.”