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Merchant Ships Hostage of Italian Immigration Policy

The refusal of the Italian government to allow merchant ships to disembark rescued migrants in Italian ports and potential continuation of such policy could have significant implications for the movement of trade throughout the Mediterranean, the international maritime bodies said urging for immediate action.

The concerns are being voiced in the wake of problems merchant vessels, including Aquarious and most recently Alexander Maersk, have had over the past few days to disembark migrants in Malta and Italy.

Maersk Line’s feeder was directed towards Sicily on June 21 to pick up 113 migrants stranded off Italy and is currently waiting for further instructions from authorities.

European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA) has called upon authorities to disembark the migrants on board the Alexander Maersk as soon as possible.

“ECSA repeats its urgent wish that merchant vessels have the certainty that migrants can be disembarked at a European port as soon as possible, and urge European authorities to take all the necessary steps to guarantee this.”

“It is not acceptable that a merchant vessel, saving migrants on its own or called upon to assist in search and rescue activities, is confronted with this kind of problems. Problems that potentially affect the safety and well-being of the migrants and the crew,” Martin Dorsman, ECSA Secretary General said.

As explained, the crew on board a merchant vessel is not trained to undertake large scale rescue operations nor are merchant vessels equipped to have migrants on board for a longer period of time.

“We know from the past that a crew of 16 seafarers had to look after some 400 migrants. That can only be for a very limited period of time. But also smaller number of migrants need to be disembarked fast,” Dorsman added.

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) called on all EU heads of government to urgently address the concerns raised by the Italian Government about the large number of rescued persons arriving in Italy at their summit later this week on June 28. This is key in order that the policy of prompt and predictable disembarkation – consistent with UNHCR principles – can be fully maintained, ICS said.

Referring to the situation of Alexander Maersk, still pending approval to disembark distressed people in Italy, ICS Secretary General, Peter Hinchliffe, said that this could have serious humanitarian consequences for the safety and welfare of hundreds if not thousands of distressed people.

 “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,” he stressed.

 “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.”