According to a report, of late, there has been a spike in the number of migrants travelling across the Mediterranean Sea to reach mainland Europe. The migrants are mainly from the Sub Saharan Africa, Libya, Syria and Morocco escaping the unstable political atmosphere in those regions for a better livelihood. The travel conditions of these migrants are often pathetic beyond words and they often travel in small fishing boats that cannot face the wrath of the sea. The fishing boats are often without the captains. Many a times they are stranded in the middle of the sea to be rescued by the commercial sea cargo services sailing across the Mediterranean Sea.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea binds the shippers and forwarders, to “render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being lost.” and hence they are to some extent forced to attend to the calls from the stranded ships. But with the increase in the number of migrants and the incidents at the sea, the sea cargo services have found it frustrating.
A classic example would be of the incident involving the merchant ship Caprice that was on its way to Qatar with a cargo of barley. The ship’s captain Joshua Bhatt got a distress call from a fishing boat with 500 migrants from Egypt wanting to cross the Mediterranean to reach Italy. Caprice decided to change course to attend to the distressed vessel, since the sea was rough. With no idea of whether the migrants will be accepted in Italy, Caprice took in all the 500 migrants and changed its course to Italy. The cargo reached Qatar with a delay of 7 days.
There is couple of reasons quoted by the shipping companies that does not encourage them from extending their helping hand to these unfortunate migrants.
First and foremost, the cost involved due to loss of business which ranges anywhere between $10000 and $50000. The shippers and forwarders are prepared to help the needy but they want the government to pitch in too.
Secondly, it is the fear of being overpowered by the passengers. Generally the migrants would be more in number and may not be in the best of living conditions. It would not take much time for them to takeover the cargo services ship with a few sailors.
Thirdly, it is the risk of communicable diseases spreading to the crew members. For instance, the migrants from Morocco, Nigeria were more susceptible to the Ebola virus, which is so prevalent in those regions.
Next it is about the safety of the merchant ship and damage to the cargo. Merchant ships are usually loaded with cargoes and there is little space for movement or for use otherwise. With an uncontrollable crowd, there is always the risk of fragile cargoes getting damaged. Especially easily combustible and explosive materials in the ship pose more danger to the passengers and the ship as well.