The merchant shipping industry – which in the past 16 months participated in almost 1,000 migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean – welcomes the decision by EU leaders to triple resources of the Triton operation. The shipping sector similarly supports the commitment of EU Member States to deploy additional operational means, including vessels and planes, to achieve this objective at relatively short notice. But the fact that operation Triton remains within the mandate of FRONTEX, the EU border agency, raises serious questions about the extent to which these efforts will fully ensure the immediate prevention of further loss of life, which should be the absolute priority.
In Brussels, Patrick Verhoeven, Secretary General of the European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA) commented: “EU leaders have agreed to increase resources and assets available for search and rescue operations, within the mandate of Frontex. Laudable as these efforts are, they still fall short of the scale and mandate of last year's Italian operation Mare Nostrum, which saved hundreds of thousands of people in 2014. What is needed immediately is a similar, EU-led, large-scale search and rescue mission, able to operate far from the EU territorial waters, which is where most of the accidents involving migrants take place.”
Commenting on the operational capabilities of Triton, Peter Hinchliffe, Secretary General of the London-based International Chamber of Shipping said: “We understand that the resources of Triton can be deployed in international waters when called upon by national Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres, but it remains highly doubtful whether they can rapidly reach areas near the Libyan coast, where most incidents tend to occur. It seems that merchant ships, which are not best equipped to rescue hundreds of people at a time, will continue to be called upon frequently to respond to requests for assistance. A clear mandate for humanitarian rescue operations by EU States still appears to be outstanding.”