The Center for Seafarers Rights (CSR) of the Seamen's Church Institute of New York & New Jersey urged the Australian government today provide safe haven for accept the people rescued from a sinking Indonesian ferry by the M/V Tampa, a Norwegian ship. "A cherished and protected maritime tradition is a mariners' obligation to go to the aid of all persons in distress at sea, without regard to their nationality, status or religion," said Douglas B. Stevenson, Director of the Center for Seafarers' Rights in a letter to the Australian Prime Minister and the Ambassador to the United States. "We are very concerned that no actions be taken by any state that might create a disincentive for vessels to respond to a distress at sea. Australia's detention of the M/V Tampa and refusal to accept the shipwreck survivors places an unreasonable financial burden on the ship and establishes a negative precedent for those masters and shipowners to comply with their moral and legal obligation to rescue persons in distress at sea."
Customary maritime law, international conventions and domestic laws of nations have established a legal duty to assist persons in distress at sea. The United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS
) in Article 98, requires that masters must render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being lost and to proceed with all possible speed to the rescue of persons in distress, if they can do so without serious danger to their own ships, crews or passengers. The Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS) in Chapter V, Regulation 10, requires the master of every merchant and private vessel to speed to the assistance of persons in distress.
"We are aware of the many issues that must be dealt with before resolving the survivors' legal status," said CSR staff attorney Camilo Cardozo. "However, we feel that keeping them on board the vessel and refusing the M/V Tampa to sail will not solve this delicate matter and will only extend the shipwrecked survivors suffering and discourage responsible masters and shipowners from going to the aid of persons in distress at sea."
The Center for Seafarers' Rights is a worldwide resource for legal research, education, advocacy and assistance on seafarers' rights issues. The Center provides free counseling and referrals to merchant seafarers and seafarers' welfare agencies worldwide. The Center also works to improve national and international laws and practices protecting seafarers and improving maritime safety.