As we approach the start of the Mediterranean yachting season, it is important to be aware of the latest information concerning the migrant and refugee crisis to enable you to plan ahead.
The Mediterranean Sea remains the main gateway to Europe for people escaping the economic and political turmoil of the Middle East and Africa. Thousands of people are crossing each month, despite naval patrols and the involvement of numerous Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Merchant ships have also played a significant role in rescuing migrants and refugees in distress at sea.
There are three major sea routes: 1) the Central route, 2) the Eastern Mediterranean route and 3) the Western route.
Last year, 363,348 arrivals were registered in Europe from these three gateways, but predominantly in Italy (181,436 people) and Greece (173.561 people). In addition, an estimated 5,079 people lost their lives while attempting to cross, most of them drowned or asphyxiated.
Securewest International Global Information System
The Central Mediterranean Route
This route is currently the most frequently travelled by migrants and refugees. About 80% of arrivals to Europe come via the Central route. The vast majority of people using this gateway are from Nigeria, Eritrea and Guinea. So far this year there were 23,125 new arrivals registered in Italy, roughly a 25% increase compared to the same period last year.
The Central route is also the deadliest sea path in the world; as of 29 March 2017, an estimated 595 people have already lost their lives this year (4,581 deaths in 2016). Departures typically start in Libya, with the goal of reaching Italy. Those crossing the Mediterranean Sea are put in overcrowded, unseaworthy fishing boats or rubber dinghies by people smugglers, often without life jackets.
Upon leaving the Libyan coast, they usually run into troubles such as running out of gasoline, engine issues or the boat taking in water. Given the distance between Libya and Italy, as well as the condition of the boats, it is unlikely that the travellers will successfully reach their destination on their own. It is more probable for them to be picked up by a naval vessel, an NGO or commercial vessel in the area.
Although less frequently travelled, there are also migrants and refugees departing from northern Egypt in overcrowded, old fishing boats and trawlers with the goal of reaching Italy. The worst calamity in the Mediterranean Sea in 2016 involved a trawler that had departed from Rashid in Egypt, a port near Alexandria. The trawler capsized on 9 April and an estimated 500 people drowned. They were mostly Egyptians, Eritreans, Sudanese and Syrians.
Boats leaving Egypt and Libya often carrying hundreds of people and, if they subsequently capsize, the casualty rates are much higher here than on any other route.
Incident Examples from Securewest International Global Information System:
26-MAR-17 Migrants and Refugees Incident
On 26-MAR-17, over 1000 refugees were rescued by the two rescue vessels in the Mediterranean Sea off the Libyan Coast, exact position unknown. Around 400 people were crammed onto a single wooden boat, while others were picked up from huge inflatable dinghies, which had set sail from the coast of Libya heading to Italy. A young woman who was found unconscious on one of the vessels, later died.
23-MAR-17 Migrants and Refugees Incident
On 23-MAR-17, more than 200 migrants are feared dead after five bodies were discovered in approximate position 33 05 00 N, 012 25 00 E (exact position unknown), about 18nm NE off Zuwara, Libya. The bodies were found floating near two capsized boats which each could hold more than 100 people.
23-FEB-17 Migrants and Refugees Incident
On 23-FEB-17, 124 migrants and refugees were rescued and 14 were found dead approximately 50nm WNW of Port of Tripoli, Libya, exact position unknown. Also on 23-FEB-17, 56 immigrants were rescued and 27 were found dead in the shipment container ashore at Khoms, Libya.
Eastern Mediterranean Route
This is the second most travelled route to Europe and mainly used by people from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Departures typically start in Turkey in overloaded boats (often dinghies) with the goal to reach one of the nearby Greek islands, e.g. Kos and Lesbos. As of 29 March 2017, there were 3,725 arrivals registered, compared to 150,703 arrivals in 2016 for the same time period. The EU-Turkey deal last spring and the Balkan countries closing their land borders, has influenced this decline in numbers and we expect this pattern to continue.
Incident Example from Securewest International Global Information System:
24-MAR-17 Migrants and Refugees Incident
On 24-MAR-17, 11 Syrians drowned in approximate position 37 47 00 N, 027 09 00 E (exact position unknown), about 3nm SW off Kusadasi, Turkey. Five of the dead were children, and a baby rescued in critical condition was among 11 people who survived the accident after their inflatable boat sank. The boat capsized in strong wind and waves and was thought to be trying to reach the Greek island of Samos.
The Western Mediterranean Route
Although migration in the Western Mediterranean Sea has increased in the last few years, the numbers of crossings are still much lower than in the Central and Eastern route. This route is often used by migrants and refugees from Mali, Nigeria, Sudan and South Sudan, who usually depart from Morocco heading to Spain, either via sea passage or the land route through Ceuta and Melilla. According to International Organization for Migration (IMO), this year so far, there had been 1,000 new arrivals registered, compared to 638 arrivals for the same timeframe last year.
Below is the latest infographic of the Mediterranean with an update on the number of arrivals and persons dead/missing from IMO.
Merchant vessels have been diverted to assist migrants and refugees in distress. But the rescue operation in the Central route is particularly challenging due to the usually large number of people in distress. In addition, people departing from Libya have spent an extended time living in inhumane conditions before paying people smugglers for their transport to Europe.
Furthermore, they might have been on an overcrowded boat for hours or days, surrounded by water and desperate to stay alive. Once a rescue boat is spotted, the people in distress often panic creating chaos on board and making the rescue operation even more difficult. Boats have capsized because passengers were crowding to one side.
Given the understandably distressed state of mind of the migrants and refugees, managing a large, desperate crowd during a rescue operation is very dangerous for all parties involved. Carefully reviewing company procedures, planning and training prior to transiting the Mediterranean for all masters and their crew is highly recommended. Furthermore, the Rescue at Sea guide (developed by IMO, ICS and UNHCR) includes a checklist of action that might be helpful.
If you encounter a migrant and refugee boat, please notify immediately the appropriate Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC).
Additional factors to consider as per the Large Scale Rescue Operations at Sea guide from ICS are:
The immediacy of the threat to life of the persons on the vessel or craft
The risks posed to ship, crew and those to be rescued during a large scale rescue operation
The preparedness of the ship for embarkation
The proximity of Search and Rescue (SAR) services
Securewest has also prepared a checklist for captains to refer to whilst preparing for the season: Mediterranean Migrant Crisis: Planning Ahead.
Refugees or Migrants?
The UNHCR viewpoint article says that ‘the two terms have distinct and different meanings, and confusing them leads to problems for both populations’. The majority of people arriving this year in Italy and Greece are from countries mired in war or which otherwise are considered to be 'refugee-producing' and for whom international protection is needed. However, a smaller proportion is from elsewhere, and for many of these individuals, the term 'migrant' would be correct. Therefore for this reason the large numbers of people arriving this year, in Europe, are classified by the UNHCR as both ‘migrants and refugees’.
Note: Information cut-off date 01 April 2017.
The above notes are for guidance only. We would be delighted to discuss your security or safety concerns regarding the migrant crisis, or any general security requirements you might have. Please feel free to contact Wayne Britton:
Tel: +44 (0)1548 856001
Securewest International the Maritime Risk Management Specialists
This analysis is a service of Securewest International’s Intelligence Section. Securewest International has specialised in global risk management since 1987, and is now one of the leading worldwide security specialists. Our people are among the most qualified and experienced in the industry, with many thousands of successful project days in the most hostile countries worldwide.
Due to extensive sector experience and structure, we can offer fully integrated solutions without hindrance to operations or undue administrative burden on our clients. drawing on our in-house Maritime Travel Risk, Intelligence, Land, Risk Consulting, QHSSE and Response teams. Securewest is uniquely placed to address the challenges and mitigate the risks associated with Travel Risk operations.
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Advisory Notes: Large Scale Operations at Sea