The Syrian Refugee Crisis has been affecting business around the world and the shipping industry is no exception. In 2015 over 750,000 migrants had arrived in Europe via sea and this doesn’t include those who have passed boarders undetected. With this figure set to keep rising into 2016 there’s no wonder ocean vessels have been so greatly affected.
The vessels carrying refugees are often overcrowded and thus frequently find themselves in jeopardy and needing assistance. The 1982 United Nations Convention dictates that any able vessel must provide assistance to another in distress regardless of nationality, cargo or route. For the most part it is cargo ships that end up helping the refugees. This creates many problems: cargo ships have to divert their routes leading to delays and more importantly merchant ships are poorly equipped for large scale humanitarian responses which could put many lives in further danger.
Due to such obligations to offer help, shipping companies are finding their costs increasing for fuel, provisions and even insurance. There are some beliefs that smugglers are sending out refugees in boats that aren’t seaworthy in order to draw in a cargo ship for rescue. So do we now need to equip all ships with security personnel? Or only allow ships with these personnel to assist? In the Mediterranean alone, nearly 3,500 individuals died in 2015, many refugees, and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) estimate that 40,000 were rescued in 2014. Cargo ships also aren’t compensated for any assistance, and still face fines for arriving late at port.
As well as the ships themselves, shipping containers are being used to house refugees in camps across Europe, with the most recent one being created in Calais in France. A camp in Hamburg has converted the containers to shelter just over 200 people while their asylum applications are processed. Tenant families have a single room to sleep in while they share bathrooms and kitchens with other families. Germany already expects over a million asylum applications. In Calais, the shipping containers are an attempt to bring order to the “jungle” camp in sand dunes near the port. The camp already contains 4000 migrants from Syria and other conflict-torn countries outside of the EU. The containers should accommodate 1,500 people with toilets and showers also available.
The migrant crisis is a problem for the EU and right now it appears to be the shipping industry that is bearing the brunt of the issues with no compensation or assistance themselves. While it is clear that help should be offered, shipping companies need to be enabled to provide adequate help without endangering their own seafarers and cargo.