ECSA, the European Community Shipowners’ Associations and the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association (NSA) participated yesterday in a hearing on migration organised by the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee in Strasbourg. The hearing was organised following the launch of the European Commission’s Agenda on Migration, on which this Committee has recently undertaken an own initiative report, expected to be adopted before the end of the year.
The European shipping industry has been and continues to be instrumental in the rescue of tens of thousands of migrants. At the hearing, ECSA and NSA presented its growing involvement and the many dangers facing both crew and the migrants, as merchant vessels, ill-suited for large scale search and rescue operations, are often called upon by national authorities to assist in the rescue of migrants in the Mediterranean.
The shipping industry has been very active in bringing to the foreground its often overlooked involvement in the unfolding humanitarian crisis. Last year, merchant vessels plying the Mediterranean Sea rescued 42.000 people in distress, while in the first five months of 2015 alone, 15.000 migrants were picked up by ships and brought to safety.
“Shipping, bound by maritime tradition, moral duty as well as legal obligations has and will continue to assist any person in distress at sea. That being said, the current situation puts considerable strain and pressure on seafarers. A typical merchant vessel with its crew of ten to twenty, cannot be expected to rescue up to 500 migrants. Moreover, it is essential to recognise that search and rescue operations are the primary and undisputed responsibility of Member States” commented Mr Patrick Verhoeven, ECSA Secretary General.
“There are concerns that, with the calm part of the year behind us, migratory flows will surge in the coming months as weather conditions will render the crossing of the Mediterranean relatively easier” remarked Mr Sturla Henriksen, CEO of the Norwegian Shipowners Association. “We are alarmed by reports that hundreds of thousands of migrants are amassing on the shores of Libya, with the ultimate goal of crossing over to Europe.”
Commenting on the European Council’s recent decision to increase the scope and resources of EU border control mission Triton, he added: “The EU has neglected its southern border for much too long. We welcome this decision as a step in the right direction and sincerely hope it will alleviate the pressure put on merchant ships and that it will provide a commensurate response to the ever increasing number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean.”
Members of European Parliament expressed their deep appreciation for the industry’s efforts and supported its plea for a stronger Member State involvement in the humanitarian crisis taking place on the EU’s doorstep.