Industry » Safety & Security » Mediterranean Migrant Crisis - Planning Ahead

Mediterranean Migrant Crisis - Planning Ahead

Wayne and David 140

The migrant issue is not a new one, nor confined to the Mediterranean, but recent events have highlighted the importance of preparing for such eventualities if cruising in areas where migrants might be encountered and your vessel becomes involved. 

2010: 9,700 refugee crossings to Europe were documented.
2015: 1,015,078 crossings were made.
2016: 188,965 have crossed the Mediterranean so far.
A total of 1,361 are feared missing or dead. 

With migrant routes in the Western, Central and Eastern Mediterranean it is possible that yacht crews will encounter migrants in distress. Captains need to consider the practical preparations and actions you might need to take in the event that you do encounter this situation, not only to save lives but to protect your crew and vessel. As we enter the yachting seson in the Med, now is the time to prepare, not only for a migrant boat encounter, but for any mass recovery of personnel from the sea. 

Securewest has prepared a checklist as a guide that captains can refer to in their preparations, and we are available for further advice should you require it.  

Map of the European Migrant Crisis 2015 cropped2

Understanding the Environment 

It is important that your crews understand the environment within which they operate. In particular: 

The Cause 

Migrants move for a number of reasons: economic, security, persecution being but some. The majority of migrants moving in the Eastern Mediterranean are Syrian fleeing due to the security situation in Syria. 

Nationalities involved

This summer has witnessed migrants moving from the Middle East, Africa and Asia. The motivations remain much as described and the geographic spread means that it is possible you will encounter them. At this stage you should give consideration to who is moving the languages they might speak and what language skills you have in your crew. 

Players - Migrants, Governments, Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCCs), Navies, Coastguards, NGOs 

There are numerous ‘players’ involved. You should have the contact details of all MRCCs and ideally know which Coastguard and Naval Vessels are in the area. It is also likely that you will encounter NGOs or similar groups such as the Migrant Offshore Aid Ship (MOAS) Phoenix. 

Legal context

In accordance with the UN Law of the Sea you have an obligation to assist fellow seafarers at sea when in distress. De-facto if a migrant vessel is in distress you must assist.


Prior planning and preparation is fundamental to ensure that in the event of encountering migrants and possibly having to take them on board you can do so safely and efficiently, as your crew will understand their roles and responsibilities, you will be practiced and know how to deal with the situation. 

Standard Operating Procedures 

We would strongly advise you draw up a set of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPS) as a guide that should include: 

  • Roles and Responsibilities

  • Training Required

  • Embarkation Methods

  • Reception

  • Holding Areas

  • Communications

  • Equipment Required

  • Post Operation Reporting and Review

* The Training Imperative *

Embarking migrants will potentially be stressful and challenging and, as with any operation at sea, it should be trained for. Training should encompass the complete operation. It is also recommended a desk top exercise is held so that all crew understand the part they play and options can be discussed.

Encountering Migrants 

The direction from The International Chamber of Shipping is to: 

  • Report the situation to the local Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre and wait for direction ideally a naval or coastguard vessel will be sent to assist. Of course the problem is that they may not arrive in time and you have no option but to embark the migrants. 


What is the safest method?

This must be carefully considered so as not to endanger your vessel or crew. It is probably better to embark by tender which means you are better able to control the situation and avoid capsize of the migrant vessel as they all run to one side. 

Nominate embarkation team

  • Embarkation team - Careful consideration must be given to selecting your embarkation team. Are they calm, able to control the situation and, very importantly, how good are their small craft skills with large numbers of people? This is the first time that you will really be able to take control and it is critical that you do so. 

  • Lifejackets – The migrants from Libya tended not too have lifejackets, later from turkey it became ‘part of the package’. It is strongly recommended you have lifejackets available as the embarkation is the most dangerous time. People will likely be weak and dehydrated and if they do go overboard without lifejackets drowning is a strong possibility. 

  • Order - women and children first – Your embarkation team must control the situation. If possible, women, children, the elderly and infirm should be embarked as a priority. 

  • Training/Drills – Good training and drills are required to ensure that this evolution can be conducted quickly and safely. How good is your crew at small boat operations? 


  • Established procedure – This should be according to an established procedure in your SOPs. Once again it is critical to take control. This will reduce panic and give confidence to those that you have rescued. It will also give confidence to your crew that they can manage a challenging situation. 

  • Location – It is strongly recommended you only have one reception point. This aids control and reduces the amount of crew required to receive the migrants. This location should have room to process those you are embarking. 

  • Dedicated Team - Selection; affinity; language. Selection of the team is very important. You need people that can take control but also those with good people skills. You should also identify crew members with appropriate language skills as this will aid communication and control, and give confidence. 

  • Personal Protection Equipment – Consideration should be given to protective overalls and at a very minimum rubber gloves and protective face masks.

  • Logistics - The reception area should have a desk and recording material – computer or paper log. Access control should also be taken into account. 

  • Recording - Names, nationalities, passport numbers etc. In accordance with SOLAS you should record who is on your vessel and so it is recommended that names, nationalities and passport numbers are taken. These can also be handed over to the authorities on disembarkation. 

  • Identify those requiring special attention – Reception provides an excellent opportunity to identify those that require special attention, the ill, the old, the young, females and even trouble makers. Consideration should be given to separating groups. It is also an opportunity to identify leaders whom can help with communication and controlling the situation.

Holding Area 

  • Capacity – The migrants will have just left an overcrowded vessel. If possible consideration should be given to rest, areas for families, the old and single women. Security should be considered in terms of access to other parts of the vessel and the vessel itself. There should be crew presence at all times for security purposes and offer a point of contact. 

  • Warm and dry – The likelihood is that migrants will be cold and wet, possibly to the point of hypothermia. Where can you place them that is warm and dry and affords protection from the elements? Can you provide dry clothes/overalls for those most in need? Some migrants have been pulled from the water naked and will require clothes to keep them warm but also to protect their modesty and prevent embarrassment to their fellows, particularly women and children. 

  • Sanitation – This is a critical issue, to provide a clean area that will not promote illness and disease. Consideration needs to be given to facilities for males and females and the use of portable disposable potties should be considered – literally a cardboard box with a plastic bag in it. 

  • Feeding and water - Migrants will be dehydrated and certainly require fluids but also food. Provisioning should be considered to include babies. If hot food can be provided that is a bonus. 

  • Daily routine - Hopefully the migrants will only be on board for a short period but a routine should be established to include times for feeding and communication. This will establish normality and give confidence. 

  • Liaison/Leaders – Communication with the migrants is critical to achieve a safe and trouble free voyage. Ideally leaders should be identified, through whom updates can be given to the any problems can be brought to the attention of the Master.


  • Life jackets – should be available for embarkation

  • Personal Protection Equipment – face masks and rubber gloves as a minimum

  • Recording of details (Paper log and computer). Ideally placed on USB to hand over to authorities on disembarkation

  • Food – baby food

  • Water – critical – bottles?

  • Blankets/Dry clothing

  • Medical Equipment/Training – Consider having to deal with hypothermia in particular. Has any member of the crew delivered a child?

  • Cardboard toilets

  • Plasticuffs – In event of restrain being required

  • Body bags – In the worst case you will have to take bodies from the water, or will experience a fatality on board. A body bag preserves the remains, improves handling, prevents disease and also provides a degree of dignity to the deceased. 

Actions On 

If you are lucky you will experience a trouble free voyage but crews should always consider and prepare for the worst case. Some instances you might consider are: 

  • Internal conflict between rival groups amongst the migrants - Consideration needs to be given as to how you will deal with this, in the worst case separating groups and restraining people. 

  • Theft – This is quite possible, either migrants stealing from each other or from the vessel. Evidence collection and detention will need to be considered. 

  • Assault – Tensions will be running high and this is a possibility. Consideration needs to be given to separating groups, evidence collection and possible restraint. Medical care may also be required. 

  • Rape – Rape is considered unlikely but still has to be considered. Separation, medical care and support, evidence collection and restraint also have to be considered.

  • Migrants do not want to go to port of disembarkation – It has often been the case that the migrants will wish to go to a place other than where the vessel is going. Communication is vital with the MRCC, migrants, owner and/or management company to resolve this issue. We understand that most vessels are covered for deviation under insurance but there is also potential for conflict and this underlines the importance of security in the holding area and preventing access to other parts of the vessel. 

  • Birth/Death - In the best case you may have to deliver a child and consideration will be required regarding where this can take place, medical support required and subsequent care. Death must be treated with care and dignity. As already mentioned the use of body bags should be considered but care and compassion will be required when dealing with family members if present.

To conduct the evolution safely and effectively, the overarching requirement is CONTROL. With appropriate planning, preparation and training you will be far better placed to achieve this. 

The above notes are a guide only. We would be happy to discuss any security or safety concerns regarding the migrant crisis, or any general security requirements you might have.

Contact: Wayne Britton
Tel: +44 (0) 1548 856001
Web: Securewest International

Post your comment

You cannot post comments until you have logged in.

Login to post a comment


No one has commented on this page yet.

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments



Search articles with keywords