In the lead-up to the German federal government’s refugee summit on 8 May 2015, Ralf Nagel, Chief Executive Officer of the German Shipowners’ Association (VDR), argued that German Navy vessels should widen the area of the Mediterranean Sea it covers for migrant search and rescue mission.
The vessels, currently assigned to rescue refugees from boats in distress, should cover areas not currently patrolled by EU ships, according to Nagel:
The 200 to 300 kilometre-wide area between the boundaries of the Triton operational zone and the coast of Libya is where the most devastating disasters to date have occurred, with thousands of refugees drowning.
Nagel added that seafarers are often the first on the scene, but they are not able to provide the adequate medical care to the refugees and they are usually unable to save all the people in distress.
Deploying the Navy in that part of the Mediterranean would not only send a strong political signal to Brussels, it would also be an important message for the shipping industry, which is doing all it can. And above all else: it would save the lives of innumerable refugees. Rescuing people at sea ought to be the responsibility of navy and coast guard vessels as a rule.
Together with the German Chancellor, we therefore demand that the boundaries within which maritime rescues are conducted by government forces be expanded beyond the Triton zone. Merchant vessels must be enabled to handover any refugees they have rescued to ships operated by EU authorities quickly. In emergencies, the ship crews need to be assisted by Navy medical teams brought in by helicopter.
Last year merchant ships saved 40,000 people in the Mediterranean in 800 separate incidents. German merchant vessels alone have brought more than 5,300 refugees in distress on board in the first months of this year. The rescue operations are very stressful for the ships’ crews, both physically and mentally. Despite the best preparations, merchant vessels and their crews are ill-equipped to carry out rescue missions and provide medical care to what may amount to several hundred refugees at a time.