Dutch shipowners call for safe harbors for rescued migrants

Refugees on a Sea Watch ship
Refugees on board the Sea-Watch 3 rescued from a ship sinking near Libya. December 2018Photo: Chris Grodotzki / Sea-Watch

There needs to be more safe harbors for asylum seekers and other migrants rescued from the Mediterranean sea, otherwise unsafe situations will arise on merchant ships, the Royal association of Dutch shipowners KVNR said to newspaper Trouw.

According to the KVNR, captains are required by treaties to rescue people in need from the water. This means that commercial ships must rescue migrants they find on the Mediterranean on rickety boats. And once the migrants on aboard, it is very difficult to find a place to put them ashore, the shipowners said. European countries refuse to take them, and they cannot be dropped off in Libya because it is unsafe. 

Commercial ships aren't always equipped to keep passengers on board for long periods of time. And tensions often arise when migrants are taken aboard commercial ships. The rescued people are exhausted, uncertain about their future, and often had nothing to eat or drink for days, the shipowners said. If, on top of that, they are confined to a ship for a long time, it can become unsafe for the crew, according to the KVNR. 

The KVNR therefore made an urgent appeal to European governments to arrange for safe ports where migrants are welcome.

Last year commercial vessels more often had to carry out rescue missions on the Mediterranean sea, according to United Nations refugee organization UNHCR. Between June and November last year, 13 percent of asylum seekers on the Mediterranean were rescued by a commercial ship, compared to 3 percent in the same period in 2017. The increase likely has to do with the fact that aid organizations' rescue ships come into action less often, as they can face hefty fines if they dock with migrants in safe harbors in Italy and Malta, among others.