April 21, 2015 | Industry Insights

Merchant Ships Become Rescue Vehicles in Mediterranean

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Several shipping associations with members operating in the Mediterranean Sea have sent a letter to the European Union regarding the increasing reliance on merchant ships to conduct human rescues of refugees fleeing violence in the Mideast and Africa. The petitioners include global merchant shipping operators and seafarer unions—the European Community Shipowners’ Associations, the European Transport Workers’ Federation, the International Chamber of Shipping, and the International Transport Workers’ Federation.

Merchant ships rescued about 40,000 people in 2014, and the number this year is projected to rise substantially. Increasingly, ships are receiving hundreds of refugees, creating health and welfare risks to seafarers, according to a press release from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). Just this week, the Norwegian ship Normand Corona rescued 95 refugees off the coast of Italy.

Those rescued are among a mass of emigrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea into Europe. They often cram into overcrowded boats that are not suitable for such a voyage. Some are participants in human trafficking. More than 3,500 have already died in such attempts.

United Nations’ refugee conventions and the International Convention of Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) constitute legal obligations for shippers regarding the rescue of people in distress at sea. But the obligations go hand in hand with hazards for both crews and refugees. The Navy and Coast Guard have vessels designed for such operations, but a large merchant ship has a long climb onto its deck and typically a crew that is inadequate to provide succor and security to hundreds of rescued, and sometimes desperate, people, according to Marine Engines and Fuels (MEF).

The rescues pose risks to ship employees, cargo and the emigrants themselves. Exposure to liability claims skyrockets in these scenarios, and many shippers and cargo owners have not fully considered such a hazard during their insurance contract negotiations. Many cargo ships carry hazardous materials or sensitive cargo, yet they are not exempted from their rescue obligations. In some cases, the rescued groups can include armed traffickers or other armed individuals. Infectious disease, vandalism, riots and theft are also concerns. There are additional issues to confront at ports of call that could cause delays and other financial losses, MEF notes.

Throughout history, from Southeast Asia to the Caribbean, seafaring refugees have been an issue, with merchant shippers playing a heroic role in saving lives. Notwithstanding, business continues, and losses incurred as a result of rescues need to be compensated. The question is, will your marine insurance or cargo insurance coverage help.

At Roanoke Trade, we consider the vast array of exposures faced by the shipping and transport industry and can advise you on the best way to protect ship, cargo and port assets, both human and property, from even unconventional losses such as those faced in rescue operations.

We invite you to learn more about us, our experienced talent in this highly specialized area, our creative solutions, and the value we will bring to you and your clients. Please contact us at 1-800-ROANOKE (800-762-6653).

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