Memo to the skipper: what to do when you meet a boat with refugees at sea.

Memo to the skipper: what to do when you meet a boat with refugees at sea.

How do the crew behave when a ship with illegal migrants is in distress nearby?

On September 3, the media were circulating a scary photo: the body of a three-year-old Syrian boy dumped ashore in the Turkish resort of Bodrum, surrounded by men from the Coast Guard. Together with his father, mother and five-year-old brother, he tried to travel to the Greek island of Kos by small boat to escape the war between the Kurds and the Sunnis from the «Islamic state»that broke out in Koban. For a «ticket» to Europe, the family paid the smugglers 4 thousand euros. Only the father survived.

Over 350 thousand migrants have already crossed the Mediterranean Sea alone, so popular among Russian yachtsmen. Since the beginning of the year over 2.5 thousand people have died in attempts to get to Europe through the Mediterranean. Last year there were 4 thousand of them. You can't close your eyes to what's going on. Everyone who goes out to sea has a chance to face the problem personally. Skippers can meet in distress in both familiar and non-traditional regions of the world for illegal migration: the Aegean Sea, off the coast of Sicily and Malta, in many areas of the western Mediterranean, the Canary Islands and the coast of West Africa.

What should a skipper be like when he encounters a boat full of illegal migrants in distress? Get people on board? Notify the Coast Guard and walk past with peace of mind? Wouldn't an attempt to save a sinking man for aiding and abetting criminals be considered? To answer these questions, Pro Asyl, a European refugee rights organization, has issued a handout for skippers and crews. We publish excerpts from it.

When faced with migrants in distress, remember one thing: as a sailor you are obliged to provide all possible assistance to anyone who finds yourself in a life-threatening situation.

This obligation is enshrined in a number of international legal instruments.

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of 1974:

It is the duty of each State to oblige the master of any ship flying its flag to the extent that the master can do so without seriously endangering the ship, crew or passengers:
(a) to provide assistance to any person found at sea who is in danger of being killed;
(b) to follow at as fast a pace as possible the assistance of those in distress if he is informed that they are in need of assistance because he can reasonably be expected

to do so.

International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) of 1979:

The parties ensure that the necessary measures are taken to ensure the proper search for and rescue of persons in distress at sea off their coasts.

The International Convention on Salvage (Ships and Property) of 1989:

It is the duty of every captain, since he can do so without seriously endangering his ship or the persons on board, to assist anyone who is threatened with death at sea.

The law emphasizes that the assistance provided must not endanger the safety of the rescue boat. For example, if you have a small powerboat, you will certainly not be able to take large numbers of people on board. However, you can and should not only log the denial of assistance and its causes, but also report the disaster to the nearest Rescue Coordination Centre. In addition, you must contact the large cargo ships and fishing trawlers in the vicinity, as they can come to help faster than rescue workers.

A ship shall be deemed to be in distress if it has difficulty manoeuvring or is unable to manoeuvre, if it is damaged or overloaded, or if it has insufficient food, drinking water or medicine.

The International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) and the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) specifically stipulate that the duty to rescue a person in distress applies equally to all people, regardless of gender, religion, nationality or legal status.

You do not have to wonder if a person in distress at sea has a visa or refugee status.

However, you should pay attention if people in distress mention that they are seeking political asylum. This should be reported to the UN Commission on Human Rights and the Rescue Coordination Centre. Also, the exercise of asylum rights narrows down the places where you can disembark such passengers. You cannot, for example, return them to their home country.

Saving people in distress, providing them with first aid, the necessary food and bringing them to safety is the SAR framework for action. The nearest safe port can and should be offered by people from the rescue centre. They are also required to make arrangements with the port authorities to receive the rescue boat and allow it to land the victims of the disaster. In 2004, amendments to SAR and SOLAS were adopted, obliging the ratifying states to allow the landing of illegal aliens. Countries must ensure that captains of ships delivering victims of distress are able to carry out their duties as soon as possible, with minimal deviation from the planned course.

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