GENEVA 

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and two UN agencies on Monday called on European governments to allow 27 people trapped aboard a cargo ship in the Mediterranean to land.

The ICS, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that the “the distraught group, including one child and a pregnant woman, have now been on board the Maersk Etienne for more than one month.”

The three organizations – one representing a private sector grouping and the two UN bodies – said that in contravention of international law, governments had been refusing the ship’s captain permission to disembark the migrants and refugees who fled Libya.

“The absence of a clear, safe, and predictable disembarkation mechanism for people rescued in the Mediterranean continues to pose an avoidable risk to life,” said IOM Director General Antonio Vitorino.

“IOM and UNHCR have long called on states to move away from the current ad hoc approach and establish a scheme whereby coastal states take equal responsibility in providing a port of safety, followed by a show of solidarity from other EU member states.”

The ship’s crew has been sharing food, water, and blankets with those rescued.

“They are, however, not trained or able to provide medical assistance to those who need it. A commercial vessel is not a safe environment for these vulnerable people, and they must be immediately brought to a safe port,” three organizations said.

In a letter to the International Maritime Organization’s secretary general, the ICS called on the organization to urgently intervene and “send a clear message that States must ensure that Maritime Search and Rescue incidents are resolved following the letter and spirit of international law.”

International law and maritime conventions place clear obligations on ships and coastal states to ensure people in distress are rescued and promptly disembarked in a place of safety, said the statement.

“The Maersk Etienne fulfilled its responsibilities, but now finds itself in a diplomatic game of pass the parcel,” said the three organizations.

Guy Platten, secretary general of the ICS, said, “The conditions are rapidly deteriorating onboard, and we can no longer sit by while governments ignore these people’s plight.”

He said this is not the first time this has happened, and governments need to live up to their obligations.

“Time is running out, and the responsibility for these people’s safety and security rests squarely with government ministers. This is not COVID related; this is a humanitarian issue pure and simple,” said Platten.

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