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From the News Desk: Shipping back on front line of migrant crisis

The Nave Andromeda incident follows the Maersk Etienne in highlighting the lack of political action

A dramatic incident off the UK coastline involving stowaways and the British special forces once again highlighted how commercial shipping is at the mercy of complex political issues that show no signs of being resolved

SEVEN stowaways were safely removed from the Liberia-flagged product tanker Nave Andromeda by British special forces last week after the ship’s master ordered crew into the vessel’s citadel when they were threatened.

The security incident was very real and the master and crew deserve recognition for the way in which they handled the threat in a professional manner, following protocol to protect both the crew and vessel, while also remaining in control of the ship. The vessel’s Greek owner was quick to praise both the calmness of the crew and also the intervention by the Special Boat Service.

But regardless of whether this is a ‘hijacking’ in the legal sense as was initially suggested by the UK government, and widely reported in other media, it should never have been allowed to have escalated into such a situation in the first place.

The master of Nave Andromeda had informed coastal states that he was carrying stowaways and sought to disembark them at the nearest possible opportunity but was rejected, twice — first by Spain then by France.

It was the UK that saw fit to deal with what by then had escalated into a fully blown security incident but it was preceded by a game of political football.

Shipping had already seen a similar high profile incident like this earlier in the summer, when it took nearly a month to resolve an impasse over migrants on board Maersk Etienne, who had been rescued by the ship after it ran into difficulty at sea — at the request of the Maltese coast guard.

Before the migrants were eventually allowed to disembark in Sicily, after transferring to another vessel, the tanker and its crew were moved around the Mediterranean as Malta, Italy, Libya and Denmark all disagreed over who was responsible for them.

Despite the European Union proposing a common migration pact to address the issue, there has been little to no progress, despite the urgings of shipping groups.

What the Maersk Etienne and Nave Andromeda incidents have in common is that while shipping has a fairly clear and defined set of obligations when it comes to saving lives at sea and ensuring the safety of those on board, there exists a legal and political vacuum outside of the vessel that needs urgent attention.

The incidents raise more questions than answers when it comes to dealing with such situations and it is something that ultimately cannot be resolved on board a vessel but rather by governments taking on the responsibility and working together.

It is also worth pointing out that many of the governments that have refused to accept vessels carrying migrants are also blocking crew changes due to Covid 19-related travel restrictions – a situation that could get worse as the second wave of the pandemic shuts down more of Europe.

And yet they also all rely on shipping to continue to facilitate global trade and spark the global recovery. Shipping deserves less buck passing and more action.

Meanwhile, the stowaways are being held in a UK immigration centre on bail ‘pending further investigations’ while Nave Andromeda has sailed on to Belgian waters.


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