UN calls for urgent action against 'appalling trend' of abandoned migrant ships

Two ships, the Blue Sky M, a cargo vessel, and the Ezadeen, a livestock vessel, were abandoned by their crews within days of each other, leaving about 1,400 migrants stranded at sea.

The Ezadeen, seen in this file photo, sailing under the flag of Sierra Leone, was abandoned off the coast of Italy
The Ezadeen, seen in this file photo, sailing under the flag of Sierra Leone, was abandoned off the coast of Italy

Senior United Nations officials today stressed the need for urgent action to protect migrants at sea following recent incidents in the Mediterranean involving hundreds of people stranded while attempting to reach Europe.

Vincent Cochetel, Europe Bureau Director for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said in a statement that two ships, abandoned off the Italian coast, are part of “an ongoing and worrying situation” that European Governments can no longer ignore.

Two ships, the Blue Sky M, a cargo vessel, and the Ezadeen, a livestock vessel, were abandoned by their crews within days of each other, leaving about 1,400 migrants stranded at sea. Italian authorities rescued the migrants, who hailed mainly from Syria.

The use of ships of such size marked a new trend, Cochetel noted, while underlining the need for urgent and concerted European action in the Mediterranean Sea, along with more efforts to rescue people at sea and stepped-up efforts to provide legal alternatives to dangerous voyages.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson also commented on the new “appalling trend” of traffickers abandoning larger cargo ships laden with migrants in the Mediterranean.

He commended the ongoing rescue efforts, in particular by the Italian Navy and Coast Guard, and emphasized the responsibility held by countries of destination, transit and origin to ensure the protection and human rights of migrants.

Eliasson’s views were echoed by Cochetel, who noted UNHCR’s gratitude to the Italian authorities for their response to the latest incidents, despite the phasing down of the Mare Nostrum operation.

Cochetel emphasized his concerns about the ending of that operation, despite the absence of a similar European search-and-rescue operation to replace it.

“Without safer ways for refugees to find safety in Europe, we won’t be able to reduce the multiple risks and dangers posed by these movements at sea,” he said.

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