Rescue of migrants at sea is a legal obligation, ICS reminds

In light of recent reports of EU ministers saying that rescue operations encourages migrants to brave dangerous crossings, the International Chamber of Shipping has issued a statement to remind all that there is a legal obligation to save all people who are in distress at sea
Rescue of migrants at sea is a legal obligation, ICS reminds

The International Chamber of Shipping has issued a statement to remind EU ministers that the rescue of persons in distress at sea is a legal obligation under international maritime law.

The global trade association was reacting to news reports that suggest some European Union Ministers are increasingly concerned that search and rescue operations have been encouraging migrants to make dangerous crossing so they will be rescued.

ICS reiterates that merchant ships are legally required to rescue people who are in distress at sea, whether they are migrants or not. The UN International Maritime Organisation’s Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS) law was originally formed over a hundred years ago after the Titanic disaster and is subscribed to by nearly every maritime nation.

In a statement, ICS said it was also worried about the new EU Frontext operation which will make it even harder for merchant ships to rescue people in distress at sea: "Under SOLAS, and the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, the obligation of the ship Master to render assistance is complemented by a corresponding obligation of IMO Member States to co-operate in rescue situations, thereby relieving the Master of the responsibility to care for survivors, and allowing individuals who are rescued at sea in such circumstances to be delivered promptly to a place of safety.

"The shipping industry is therefore very concerned by reports that the new EU Frontex operation ‘Triton’ will have a third of the budget of the current Italian ‘Mare Nostrum’ operation which it replaces, that its primary focus will be border control, and that search and rescue operations may be reduced in international waters.

"It will clearly be much more difficult for merchant ships to save lives at sea without the adequate provision of search and rescue services by EU Member States.  Moreover, whenever a ship performs its legal and humanitarian obligations, it will continue to be incumbent on EU Member States to ensure that those who are rescued can be readily disembarked at the next port of call, even when they may lack documentation."


by Laura Stackhouse Editor

Laura Stackhouse is the Web Editor of, an official publication of the International Marine Purchasing Association (IMPA). To discuss news, features or contributing to please get in touch.

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