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Seafarers are still rescuing migrants

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10th November 2015

In 2014, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) stated that the rescue of all persons in distress at sea- including illegal migrants – is an obligation under international maritime law, as well as being a long established humanitarian duty. In the same year, seafarers aboard 800 merchant ships rescued 40,000 migrants. Their role in the large scale rescue of migrants should be recognised and commended.

A seafarer involved in an operation which saved the lives of 211 migrants off the coast of Libya has shared his story with ISWAN.

"It was Sunday, and we were relaxing after our duties, when all of sudden there was a call for rescue, and in no time we all got prepared. The Italian navy gave call on vhf [very high frequency] and we proceeded. We all had an equal hand in the rescue operation. The gangway was prepared and lowered, the pilot ladder was lowered and the lifeboats were made ready, the crane was prepared and the first aid team was ready with water and a few provisions... to energize them. The bridge team was in charge of carrying out the operation. During the operation, I was involved in putting out the net, and with the help of that we were able to get alongside [their raft]".

The operation had a profound effect on him: "For me, it was the first encounter with life and death. What extremes a person can go to [in order to] survive seen through my eyes. They were all young people who wanted to just survive. I thank God that he gave me and all of us the opportunity to do something to [help], and not to complain for unnecessary reasons which we cry for each day. I'm being more mature now", he said.

His story drives home the important role seafarers have undertaken in this crisis: "I'm not sure what would have happened if we weren't there. They were thirsty, hungry and praying under the open hot and dry sun to be rescued." He added that "all the training and precautions really helped. Teamwork made the successful operation possible." In this instance, the crew were well trained for rescue operation procedures, and this helped them to save the lives of 211 migrants. Sadly, three people had died on the raft before the seafarers reached them.

In May 2015, ISWAN, along with the International Christian Maritime Association (ICMA), and the International Maritime Health Association (IMHA) called on EU governments to recognise the key role seafarers play in the rescue of migrants at sea. Together, they sent a letter to the heads of governments urgently requesting more resources to be mobilised for search and rescue in the Mediterranean. The letter reminded the governments that seafarers are often facing situations where they must recover bodies and deal with sick or injured people, and this may have an effect on them for which they could need counselling or other forms of support.

Seafarers are to be commended for their work in search and rescue operations, and this account is a prime example of the importance of training and teamwork.

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