Search and Rescue Operations in the Mediterranean


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Summer is once again upon us and the media coverage surrounding the refugee and migrant crisis in the Mediterranean continues, as do the criticisms of Operation Triton. So has anything really changed since Triton was introduced or do commercial operators still have to step in?

Launched on 1 November 2014, the EU's Frontex Operation Triton has been a controversial replacement for its predecessor, the Italian Mare Nostrum programme. Unlike Mare Nostrum, Triton does not focus on 'search and rescue' (SAR) missions but focuses its efforts on 'border management'. This means that the area for which government-led rescue efforts are responsible has been significantly reduced, and some have feared that this has led to an increase in casualties. 

A direct consequence of this change, and the associated media coverage, has been an increase in non-governmental rescue organisations such as the Migrant Offshore Aid Station and Sea Watch. Whilst the increase in NGOs tries to fill the gap left by Mare Nostrum, commercial ship operators are still often required to intervene. This may be made worse by the proposed EU NGO Code of Conduct, which may not allow NGOs access to Italian Ports unless they sign up. Concerns over the wording and impact of this has been raised by organisations such as Human Rights at Sea.

There are also potential problems the horizon with the Defend Europe movement, a right-wing group, who may try to stop the work of NGO vessels - which could place additional pressure on the commercial operators. 

What obligations does the Member have?

Members have an obligation to provide prompt assistance to any person "found at sea in danger of being lost" and to do so promptly. The only caveat to this being, if providing said assistance would cause serious danger to the ship and her crew. Failing to comply with these obligations, could result in a fine and imprisonment.

Once onboard the ship, the rescued persons must also be provided with food, water and shelter until they can be landed.

The Club's Refugees at Sea information page contains further detailed information and resources. 

Amanda Hastings

Claims Executive