ICS issues guidance for large-scale rescues in the Med

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has published Guidance on Large Scale Rescue Operations at Sea, in response to the migration crisis “necessitating commercial ships to rescue tens of thousands of migrants and refugees during 2014”.

The move comes in response to the increased onus on ships to rescue migrants in the Med following the end of the Mare Nostrum agreement and the stepping down of EU search and rescue operations.

The Guidance on Large Scale Rescue Operations are intended to assist crew members and shipping companies in the eventuality of rescues of “as many as 200 people at a time”, including drills and preparatory measures, including additional personal protective equipment for ship’s crew, and provision for accommodation of rescuees “with an emphasis on sanitation, hygiene and ship security”.

“The shipping industry fully accepts its humanitarian obligation to assist anyone at sea whose vessel is in distress,” said ICS secretary general Peter Hinchliffe. “But the scale of the crisis involving thousands of people attempting to get to Europe in craft that are neither fit for purpose nor seaworthy has raised real concerns about the safety and health of ships’ crews that may be involved in rescuing as many as 200 people at a time.”

The chamber also stressed that decisions around the legal status of the people they have rescued or whether they intend to apply for asylum should not involve a ship’s master.

“Notwithstanding the shipping industry’s legal and humanitarian obligations to rescue people in distress at sea, it remains incumbent on the governments to find a solution to the current crisis which is placing a very difficult burden on ships’ crews and the companies that have a duty of care for them,” said Hinchliffe.

The news comes ahead of ICS’ meeting with IMO, hosted by the UN high commissioner for refugees, in Geneva later this week.

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