Shipping industry concerned at Italian policy on migrants rescued at sea

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has said that it is “deeply concerned” about the Italian Government’s recent decision to close its ports to the vessel Aquarius, carrying 629 rescued migrants.

Research vessel Aquarius (IMO 7600574) has 629 migrants on board, among them 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 children and seven pregnant women. They were the product of six separate rescue operations. The Aquarius had rescued 229 people, while a further 400 were transhipped onto the ship of the NGO from Italian Coast guard and merchant ships.

However, Matteo Salvini, the new Italian interior minister, refused to allow the ship to dock at Italian ports, insisting that Malta should take the vessel. Malta also declined, saying that it was Italy’s responsibility. Spain then stepped in, offering Valencia as a haven. However, the Aquarius appears not to have enough fuel to get there. Those on board were running out of food and now some of the migrants have been transferred to Italian vessels. 1977-built, Gibraltar-flagged, 1,812 gt research vessel Aquarius is owned by Aquarius GmbH care of manager Jasmund Shipping GmbH of Germany. It is entered with Gard P&I (Bermuda) on behalf of MV Aquarius GmbH.

The ICS said that the refusal by Italy to allow rescued persons to be disembarked could have serious implications for the safety and welfare of the people on board.

The ICS said that, to its great credit, the government of Italy had consistently permitted prompt and predictable disembarkation of people rescued by merchant ships, as well as by vessels operated by humanitarian NGOs.

The ICS said that, if NGO vessels were prevented from disembarking rescued persons in Italy, this would also have significant implications for merchant ships and the movement of trade throughout the Mediterranean, as merchant ships would again have to become involved in a greater number of rescues. The ICS said that it was committed to meeting its obligations under SOLAS to come to the rescue of any person in distress at sea.

The ICS noted that, since the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean escalated three years ago, more than 50,000 people had been rescued by merchant ships, with many more rescued by military vessels and boats operated by humanitarian NGOs.

The ICS noted that a further 3,000 migrants lost their lives during 2017.

ICS Secretary General Peter Hinchliffe said that “the primary concern of shipowners is humanitarian. In the interest of protecting safety of life at sea, ICS is therefore calling on all EU Member States to urgently address the legitimate 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, not just in Italy but in other EU Member States too”.

Meanwhile, SAR vessel Sea-Watch 3 (IMO 7302225) was held until past midnight on June 9th after arriving at the port at Reggio Calabria with 232 people onboard. Italian police questioned the captain for more than four hours, and journalists travelling on the vessel were asked to hand over video footage of the rescue operation, which took place on June 5th. 1973-built, Netherlands-flagged, 645 gt Sea-Watch 3 is owned and managed by Sea-Watch EV of Berlin, Germany.