German ship owners are appealing to the Bundestag for more state aid to fund urgent rescue missions in the Mediterranean sea.
In light of the recent tragedy and the sharp rise in the number of refugees trying to make their way across the Mediterranean Sea, the German Shipowners' Association has asked the federal government and the EU heads of state and government to expand state safe and rescue efforts in the region urgently.
Ralf Nagel, Chief Executive Officer of the VDR, said: “In the past several months our member companies have rescued over 5,000 refugees in distress in the Mediterranean Sea. Merchant vessels are summoned by the Italian coast guard for rescue missions on a daily basis. In the process, our seafarers keep reaching their physical and mental limits. Refugees drown time and again before their eyes or die on board due to exposure. Despite all preparations, merchant vessels are not equipped for rescue and medical treatment of partly several hundreds of refugees.”
On 22nd April the German Bundestag began debating the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean Sea in a special session. In this context, Nagel said: “We expect support from the German Bundestag as well as a clear mandate to Chancellor Merkel for tomorrow's EU summit meeting to expand safe and rescue operations by EU states massively in the Mediterranean Sea – and very soon. In addition, we need medical assistance on board. The refugees include many sick and injured persons, but also women in an advanced state of pregnancy. Germany needs to make a substantial contribution and the other EU member states must make a concerted effort as well. After all, the number of refugee boats is expected to rise even further in the next few weeks. A passage on hopelessly overloaded, non-ocean-going boats represents a mortal hazard even in the spring.”
Nagel went on to say that the debate should stay away from recent statements that suggest rescue missions indirectly support criminal human traffickers. "That certainly would be a bizarre signal to our seafarers," he said. "After all, rescuing people in danger of drowning is a legal and iron-clad duty for ship crews. In doing so, we do not draw any distinction with regard to the origin of the people in distress and what their objectives are. However, we expect the EU member states to provide the maritime shipping sector with much stronger relief from this task than in the past. Moreover, we need political solutions fast in order to be able to manage the flow of refugees via the Mediterranean Sea as a whole.”
In 2014, merchant ships took more than 40,000 refugees on board in over 800 rescue missions. In the last several days, more than 10,000 boat refugees have been rescued by maritime shipping and the Italian coast guard.