MANILA — The International Chambers of Shipping (ICS) on Saturday said the rescue of all people in distress at sea is an obligation of all seafarers under international maritime law.
This included even illegal immigrants, the group said.
The ICS also said that it was a long-established humanitarian duty.
The body was responding to reports that some European Union (EU) ministers had expressed concerns that search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean have encouraged illegal immigrants to make dangerous crossings in the expectation of rescue.
The ICS noted that merchant ships are legally required to rescue people in distress at sea under the International Maritime Organization (IMO) safety of life at sea convention (SOLAS), to which most maritime nations are signed up.
All IMO member states are also obliged to cooperate in rescues, relieving the ship’s master of the responsibility to care for survivors and allowing individuals who are rescued to be delivered promptly to a place of safety.
The ICS also expressed concern that the EU is replacing the current Italian Mare Nostrum rescue force with a new operation on a third of its budget, focusing on border control and reducing search and rescue operations in international waters.