Merchant ship owners can’t cope with increasing flows of refugees trying to cross from Africa and the Middle East to countries like Greece and Italy, says a report in WSJ
The number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean is putting a "disproportionate" burden on the shipping industry, threatening the tradition of maritime rescue, says another report in AFP.
Last year 800 vessels were diverted to rescue some 40,000 migrants at sea in 2014 alone. The migrants are mostly from Libya and the Syria on small boats drifting in the water.
Peter Hinchliffe, secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping said: "That's way beyond the scale that was ever envisaged." Each time a ship is diverted for two or three days to disembark migrants, it costs the shipowner between $50,000 and $80,000, he said.
“We’ve come to a point where the flow of refugees has reached a size where we can no longer cope,” Thomas Rehder, president of the European Community Shipowners’ Associations, tells the Wall Street Journal.
“Ships with a crew of around 20 don’t have the lifesaving appliances to handle 200 or more migrants at a time. We can’t accommodate them, feed them or deal with the security risk that is involved.”
Laurent Muschel, director of migration and asylum at the European Commission, said that the European Union's border agency Frontex was currently monitoring a dozen ships that might be used for such a purpose.
The International Maritime Organisation, a UN agency, said that there was "particular concern" about cargo ships being used to smuggle migrants.
So far 7,500 people set off in search of a better life in Europe this year, 370 of whom died, while there were 219,000 crossings and 3,500 deaths last year, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
Meanwhile, the High-Level Meeting to Address Unsafe Mixed Migration by Sea is being hosted at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Headquarters in London and aims to facilitate dialogue and promote enhanced cooperation and harmonization between United Nations agencies, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, Governments and the shipping industry.
IMO Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu said that the issue of mixed migration by sea, including irregular migration, had, in recent years, reached epidemic proportions, to the extent where the whole system for coping with such migrants was being stretched up to, and sometimes beyond, its breaking point.