Migration affecting shipping operations, experts say

Commercial vessels engaged in rescue operations for migrants stranded at sea

The MV Salamis, which in 2013 saved a group of migrants stranded at sea and was prevented from entering Malta
The MV Salamis, which in 2013 saved a group of migrants stranded at sea and was prevented from entering Malta

The humanitarian crisis of Mediterranean migration emanating from Libya continues to have an effect on normal shipping trading operations, maritime operations company Dryad has warned.

“Commercial vessels are already engaged in rescue operations involving large numbers of migrants and there is a risk of stowaways trying to make their way on board whilst vessels are in ports and anchorage areas. Threats to navigation and further tragedies lie in wait as traffickers act covertly and with unlit boats at night,” Dryad said.

The Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) will return to its rescue operations in summer, supported by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

The vessel will be stationed in the central Mediterranean from May to October.

Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, is currently at the United Nations and seeking support for the authorisation of EU military strikes on smuggling boats in Libya.

She said the EU needs “a framework of international legality” to carry out the strikes, and sought to assure Libyans that the EU was not preparing anything “intended against Libyan people or the Libyan authorities in all their complexity.”

In 2014, the EU’s border agency Frontex detected the biggest number of illegal border crossings, 280,000, mainly fuelled by the ongoing fighting in Syria, which has caused the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

Syrians fleeing their country were the largest group of irregular migrants seeking to enter the EU.

Most of the detections were reported as part of search and rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean area.

Frontex said in its quarterly risk report that the unprecedented number of migrants also encouraged facilitators to use cargo ships to smuggle them at a large scale. Starting in September, such vessels took migrants directly from the Turkish coast near Mersin to Italy.

“This is a multi-million-euro business for organised crime groups, which is likely to be replicated in other departure countries.”

Another trend identified by Frontex was the increasing number of deliberate attempts to involve merchant ships in rescuing migrants. This has prompted the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to voice the concerns of the shipping industry over its involvement in rescuing migrants.

Dryad said that it was unlikely that militias affiliated to the Islamic State, which has taken over parts of the Libyan coast like Derna, carries out an attack at sea.

“While theoretically possible, an incident is unlikely to materialise in the near future offshore. The ability for IS to operate in any meaningful way in offshore areas is assessed to be beyond their current capabilities and outside their priorities, given the heavy fighting for control on land.”

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