Encountering refugees afloat

Silverado

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This summer we expect to be cruising in the southern Med out of Malta and I am hearing some very disturbing reports about fishing boats encountering groups of African refugees floating their way to Italy or Malta aboard very makeshift craft. Usually they have set out from Libyan ports where apparently there are thousands just waiting to make the trip and they have paid someone to take them. Today there was a news report of fishing boats out of southern European ports just passing them by knowing that they would probably drown and there are some cases where they managed to scramble aboard slow moving tows.

What would you do if you encounter something like this at sea. Many of these "boats" are barely capable of floating. Do you stop and take them aboard, do you ignore them - what should you do? Has anyone given this any thought?
 

Talbot

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This is a real problem. The boats I have seen, I would not get very close too, as they have too many people to safely take aboard your own craft. The best solution is to make contact with shore authorities and stand by until assistance can be obtained, thus providing a radio link. This doesnt provide the solution if their craft sinks, or if you dont have iridium or HF transmit.

Then there is the tricky legal position. Are thay really refugees, or economic asylum seekers? I will try to get a legal opinion this week.
 

gtuson

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Not in Med at moment but thought about it. The situation is so insane. How can we live with ourselves cruising comfortably through the same waters in which these desparate people are willing to risk drowning themselves? This is globablisation - we are all becoming our brothers keepers and mere distance is no longer enough to enable us to ignore the troubles of others. I've no idea what i would do in practice ----if large numbers would stand off and radio for help....I dunno...right now its probably enough to put me off going back to Med. We can avoid the high risk areas....but the facts are still in our minds as we sail onto the next taverna - not so?
 

Poignard

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1. If you take them on board you might not be permitted to land them anywhere.

2. There would be a great temptation for them to cut your throat and dump you over the side. Just because they are refugees doesn't automatically mean they are law-abiding people [whose law applies anyway?!].

3. Best you can do is to radio their position to shore authorities or larger vessels better able to help them.
 

Sea Devil

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Firstly I agree with Twisterowner - that is the way to go...

When I was attacked by pirates at dawn in the Gulf of Aden my first sighting was of 3 boats crowded with people waving and gesticulating. I was concerned because if they wanted water/food help there were so many I could not help them and might be causing danger to my own boat and crew. Should I run or stand by to help these poor people...

My dilemma was solved a few moments later when they opened fire with AK47s, Kalashnikov and Uzis....
 

jerryat

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[ QUOTE ]
1. If you take them on board you might not be permitted to land them anywhere.

2. There would be a great temptation for them to cut your throat and dump you over the side. Just because they are refugees doesn't automatically mean they are law-abiding people [whose law applies anyway?!].

3. Best you can do is to radio their position to shore authorities or larger vessels better able to help them.

[/ QUOTE ]

This is exactly the procedure I would follow. Whilst having some sympathy, I would not risk either mine or SWMBO's life on the chance that they would all be perfectly behaved. And as another has mentioned, what would you do with them if the country to which you were headed refused entry.

Would it be like one of your crew members where the owner/skipper would be liable for repatriation, and where would you repatriate them to etc etc .......

It's a hugely sad situation, but far too risky IMHO to get directly involved with.
 

philfin

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It is indeed a bit of a dilema. You could be faced with a situation where there are some 50 "refugees" in an open boat designed for 15. Some of whom could be women, children, honest persons seeking refuge or criminals. There is no doubt that when encountering persons who are in disteress at sea that we have both a moral and a legal obligation to offer assistance.

However, for your information, I have recieved the following advice from the armed forces in this area. On sighting this type of sitiuation, you should notify the authorities by radio or other means and standby. You should not come along side the vessel because apart from the points already raised about putting your own vessel/crew in danger, What also happens is that the people on the grossly over loaded boat rush/scramble to one side of the boat which often causes it to capsize and you then end up with 50 or so people in the water.

Even the patrol craft do not come along side for this reason. They stand off also and effect the transfer of people by a small dingy/tender and a few at a time.

It is a very difficult issue but we should try to help whenever we can and not let the failings of various governments be an excuse for us to turn a blind eye or discriminate between who we will offer assistanc to and who we will not.
 

Poignard

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If you had a suitable container [e.g. a watertight flare bottle] I suppose it might be possible to float some spare food and water off to them; making sure any line could be instantly released should they grab it and try to haul themselves towards you.
 

Talbot

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I promised to come back to you on this subject. It is anything but straightforward. I am having a legal opinion worked up on it to meet another requirement.

Initial thoughts are:

If the refugee craft is within the 12 mile territorial limit (or whatever territorial limit is recognised for that country which may be up to 20 miles or as little as 3), then you are much better off. Not only do you have a reasonable chance that you could stand by them long enough for a craft with sufficient capacity for the rescue to be called up from ashore, but if by some mischance that you actually had to pick up the refugee and take them into the nearest port, the fact that you had picked them up inside their territorial waters means that they would "probably" accept responsibility for them. Make sure that the log records all the positions and shows them to be clearly inside territorial waters.


If they are outside territorial waters, it is much less clear. For a start, it is less likely that you could get assistance in time, and would then be faced with the impossible situation of only being able to save a proportion of the crew, or risk being sunk yourself. Then even worse, there is a distinct probability that any country that you attempted to land these unfortunates, would then refuse to allow them to disembark, and you would then need to go to your own country of registration.

Be aware that this is an off the cuff response, and an attorney has gone away to research the legal aspects of this further.

I will post the legal response once I have received it.
 

Sandyman

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Surely it cannot be your responsibility to go to the aide of such stricken boats when you know that to do so would endanger your boat & your crew. Remember these are desperate people who would likely take your life to save theirs.
I would radio for assistance but stay well clear. A hard decision maybe, but then life at sea is hard & these people should not be on it.
 
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