Maritime News

Shipping comes to the aid of migrants lost at sea

21 July 2017

Merchant shipping continues to play a vital role in the search and rescue of migrants and refugees lost at sea, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) said at a recent workshop of the International Dialogue on Migration.

In 2016, 381 merchant ships were diverted from their routes and 121 ships were involved in the rescue of 13,888 people; an average of 110 people were rescued in each operation.

Although the number of ships involved in rescue operations has been fairly constant, the workshop was told that the number of migrants and refugees drowned at sea continues to rise. More than 4,500 people were lost while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in 2016, compared with 3,175 in 2015, and there have been 2,150 deaths so far in 2017.

The United Nations has been developing a “global compact on migration”, which is expected to be adopted at an intergovernmental conference on international migration in 2018.

Meanwhile, a British House of Lords inquiry has heard that the European Union (EU) naval mission to tackle people-smuggling in the Mediterranean (Operation Sophia) might have inadvertently led to more refugee and migrant deaths at sea. The inquiry was told that since smugglers’ boats have been destroyed (452 to date) they have been using unseaworthy vessels, mainly dinghies, leading to more deaths, and that the mission has failed to disrupt people smuggling in the central Mediterranean – only 110 mainly low-rank smugglers have been arrested. However, the peers said that Operation Sophia’s search-and-rescue work should continue; it has already saved the lives of more than 33,830 people.

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