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ICS concern over Italy’s policy on migrants rescued at sea

(Posted on 27/06/18)

The global trade association for ship operators, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), is increasingly concerned about the new policy of the Italian Government to close its ports to migrants rescued by ships at sea.

In the interest of protecting safety of life at sea, ICS is calling on all EU heads of government, at their summit later this week on 28th June, to urgently address the concerns raised by the Italian Government about the large number of rescued persons arriving in Italy, in order that the policy of prompt and predictable disembarkation – consistent with UNHCR principles – can be fully maintained.

Having previously refused access to vessels operated by humanitarian NGOs, it is now understood that commercial ships, which have been requested by the Italian Rescue Co-ordination Centre to pick up people in distress, have also been refused permission by the Italian Government to disembark these rescued people in Italy.      

“If correct, this refusal by Italy to allow prompt and predicable disembarkation from merchant ships, which are complying with their obligations under maritime law, could have serious humanitarian consequences for the safety and welfare of hundreds if not thousands of distressed people” said ICS Secretary General, Peter Hinchliffe. “If the policy is extended this would also have significant implications for the movement of trade throughout the Mediterranean. But the industry’s immediate concern is humanitarian and for the welfare and dignity of those people that have been rescued and their need to receive proper medical assistance ashore.”      

Following the election of the new Italian Government, ICS says the crisis now seems to be taking an ever more political direction.

 

“At their summit later this week, it is of the utmost importance that EU leaders get to grips with this serious new problem of EU States refusing to disembark rescued persons that have been correctly rescued by merchant ships as required by international law.” said Mr Hinchliffe.      

The global shipping industry, as represented by the International Chamber of Shipping, is committed to meeting its obligations under the UN International Maritime Organization Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS) to come to the rescue of any person in distress at sea.   Since the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean escalated three years ago, around 100,000 people have already been rescued by merchant ships, with many more rescued by military vessels and boats operated by humanitarian NGOs.  

The crisis in the Mediterranean is still far from over, with thousands of migrants still attempting to make the dangerous sea crossing in overcrowded and unseaworthy craft. Shockingly, according to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) a further 3,000 migrants lost their lives during 2017.

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