Maersk Line’s feeder containership Alexander Maersk picked up 113 people from a boat off southern Italy, at around 4:30 am CET Friday morning, Maersk Line’s spokesperson confirmed to World Maritime News.
The ship was underway from Al Khoms, Libya to Malta when it received a request from the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre Rome, Italy to change its course to assist in a search and rescue operation, late Thursday evening, June 21, Maersk Line said.
As a result, the Danish-flagged ship was directed towards Sicily and is currently waiting for further instructions from authorities.
“The vessel is receiving timely support from the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre, who Saturday evening disembarked five persons from the vessel, mainly children and one pregnant woman, and delivered supplies to the vessel such as blankets and food,” the company statement reads.
The shipping industry is directly affected by migrants at sea, especially taking into account that under SOLAS, the captains of merchant vessels are required to rescue individuals in distress at sea. As prescribed, these individuals should be transferred to a safe port.
However, as indicated on numerous occasions, commercial ships are not equipped neither are the crews trained to undertake large-scale rescues or keep migrants on board for long time.
Earlier this month, the European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA) raised concerns after Italy’s populist government closed its ports to migrants coming in by sea in overcrowded rubber dinghies.
The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) said that the refusal by Italy to allow rescued persons to be disembarked could have serious implications for the safety and welfare of these distressed people, including children and pregnant women.
“If NGO vessels are 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,” ICS said.
“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,” ICS Secretary General, Peter Hinchliffe, remarked.
According to the Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini, the asylum seekers should be sent back to Libya and not rescued by non-governmental organizations which insist that sea migrants face rape, torture, beatings and forced labour in Libya. Hence, the safety of Libyan ports for these individuals fleeing poor living conditions in their country of origin is doubtful.
Since the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean escalated three years ago, over 50,000 people have been rescued by merchant ships, with many more rescued by military vessels and boats operated by humanitarian NGOs.
According to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) a further 3,000 migrants lost their lives during 2017.
World Maritime News Staff