Migration: What’s your plan?

Remember the era of maritime piracy? Not the era of peg legs and parrots, but from 2008 to 2010, Somali pirates were raking in US$8.3 billion a year from their criminal efforts.  To the maritime industry, piracy was just one of the many potential risks that sat on a line item along with higher fuel, strong wings or even increased taxes.

At its peak over 400 mariners were being held hostage and dozens of vessels were hijacked. The world got mad, and took action. Countries combined naval patrols, companies trained their crews in evasive action, and courts started throwing the book at pirates. It still did not end piracy. Then when private industry came up with a solution (providing security on board ships in transit zones) piracy magically vanished.

The combination of private industry and government action worked. The last successful Somali pirate action was 10 May, 2012.

Piracy was a threat to the shipping industry. 90% of things worldwide spend time on a ship. Piracy affected the world.  But why did it take so long for governments to work with private solution providers to end the scourge?

Today the maritime industry is facing a similar problem when migrants heading from Africa and the Middle East deliberately rely on private and government ships to rescue them.  Worse, after an attempt by EU nations to solve the problem by pushing forward naval assets via Mare Nostrum and Triton, the EU has decided to drastically curtail its presence in the transit zones favoured by smugglers and migrants.  This increased the likelihood that private maritime industry will be called on to act as Search and Rescue operators when migrants deliberately call in for assistance.  2015 is shaping up to have disastrous impact on shipping schedules and budgets in the Mediterranean.

When commercial ships in the Mediterranean detour to rescue migrants in distress, 90% of our things don’t arrive on time. We don’t know how much money commercial vessels lose every year for doing the right thing in the Med, but we do know that they do it a lot. The UNHCR reported that over 600 merchant ships rescued 37,000 migrants in 2014.

76% of all migrant deaths occur in the Mediterranean Sea. It’s the world’s most dangerous migration route. As migrant numbers increase, the shipping industry scrambles to keep pace. The International Chamber of Shipping just released new guidelines for ‘Large Scale Operations at Sea.’

Taking the scenic route isn’t cheap. Detours can cost up to $90,000. It can be dangerous, too.

If you have to stop your ship to pick up several hundred people, your ship will be delayed, your crew will be stressed, there is serious potential for loss of life from errors during rescue to even conduct of desperate migrants on board. ‘There are  serious safety concerns.’ a senior manager in the oil tanker industry told the Financial Times. ‘You have a duty to fellow human beings but taking several hundred people on a tanker is hugely risky.’

Expecting commercial vessels to fill gaps that Frontex can’t fill is irresponsible and expensive. Sailors have basic Search and Rescue training, but they aren’t equipped to handle serious medical emergencies. They’ve got cargo to protect, a boat to run and deadlines to meet. If they fail at any of these tasks, the price of 90% of everything goes up.

Unsustainable migration rescue plans threaten the shipping industry. Everybody pays.

MOAS has proven they can respond, coordinate and assist the commercial maritime industry. We are looking to fund our 2015 season and look forward to discussing this emerging threat. Contact me at info@moas.eu.