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SHIPPING ORGANISATIONS HIGHLIGHT PLIGHT OF MIGRANTS TRAPPED ON CARGO VESSEL

Tuesday, September 8, 2020 

ICS, the International Chamber of Shipping, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are calling for the immediate disembarkation of 27 rescued people trapped onboard a cargo ship.

The group, including one child and a pregnant woman, have now been onboard the Maersk Etienne for more than one month. Governments have been refusing permission for the ship’s Master to disembark the migrants and refugees who fled Libya. The ship’s crew have been sharing food, water and blankets but are however not trained or able to provide medical assistance.

In a letter to the IMO Secretary General, ICS has called on the Organization to urgently intervene and “send a clear message that States must ensure that Maritime Search and Rescue incidents are resolved in accordance with the letter and spirit of international law.”

“The absence of a clear, safe, and predictable disembarkation mechanism for people rescued in the Mediterranean, continues to pose avoidable risk to life,” said IOM Director General Antonio Vitorino. “IOM and UNHCR have long called on states to move away from the current ad hoc approach and establish a scheme whereby coastal states take equal responsibility in providing a port of safety, followed by a show of solidarity from other EU member states.”

“The conditions are rapidly deteriorating onboard, and we can no longer sit by while governments ignore the plight of these people,” said Guy Platten, ICS Secretary General. “This is not the first time that this has happened, and we need governments to live up to their obligations. Time is running out and the responsibility for these people’s safety and security rests squarely with government ministers. This is not Covid related; this is a humanitarian issue pure and simple. The shipping industry takes its legal and humanitarian obligations to assist people in distress at sea extremely seriously, and has worked hard to ensure that ships are as prepared as they can be when presented with the prospect of large-scale rescues at sea. However, merchant vessels are not designed or equipped for this purpose, and States need to play their part.”

The European Community Shipowners Associations (ECSA) has added its voice. "It is unacceptable that after having rendered assistance by rescuing the persons, the Maersk Etienne has been left entangled in legal and diplomatic disputes between States awaiting a designation of a port for disembarkation. This has caused a humanitarian crisis on board which imperils both the crew and the rescued persons. All governments involved need to take on their responsibilities here and work towards an immediate solution" said Martin Dorsman, ECSA Secretary General.

The Maersk Etienne is the third incident this year in which a merchant vessel has been stranded caring for people rescued at sea. In May, the Marina was delayed for six days with some 80 rescued people on board before being able to disembark, while in July, the Talia took four days out of its scheduled journey to care for 50 people who were finally allowed to disembark in a place of safety after four days. This latest incident represents a significant escalation of the situation.

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