Tag Archives: SOLAS

NATO Transfers Rescued Migrants to Tunisia

According to information provided by the Spanish Ministry of Defence, the Spanish frigate Almirante Juan de Borbón sailed to Tunisia earlier this morning (16 July) and, while remaining outside Tunisian waters near Zarzis, transferred the remaining 106 rescued migrants to the Carthage, a Tunisian naval vessel.  114 migrants were initially rescued by the Spanish ship.  5 of the migrants were airlifted to Malta for medical reasons on 13 July.  On 11 July, shortly after the initial rescue of the migrant boat, 3 migrants were evacuated and turned over to Tunisian authorities.  The original 114 consisted of 88 men, 20 women (5 of whom are pregnant), and 6 children. The Defence Ministry said that the decision to transfer the migrants to Tunisian authorities was a NATO decision.

While the decision to disembark the migrants in Tunisia is better than sending them to eastern Libya (something I was fearful would occur), Tunisia is problematic for several reasons.  The migrant boat was reportedly carrying Tunisians.  To the extent that any of them may have had claims for international protection, the claims have been effectively eliminated.   It is not known whether any efforts were made to assess whether any of the Tunisians had claims for international protection.   And to the extent that any of the non-Tunisians have claims for international protection, Tunisia is clearly less able to handle such claims and less able to provide care for asylum seekers relative to Malta, Italy, or Spain (or any of the NATO countries participating in Operation Unified Protector).

[17 July update – NATO’s OUP Press Office informed me earlier today that any questions regarding who made the decision to transfer the migrants to Tunisia and whether any of the migrants were screened for claims for international protection had to directed to the Spanish Ministry of Defence.]

Click here (EN), here (ES), and here (ES) for articles.

Click here for Spanish Ministry of Defence press statement and additional photos. (ES)

Photo Credit: Ministerio de Defensa de España (mde.es)

Photo Credit: Ministerio de Defensa de España (mde.es)

Photo Credit: Ministerio de Defensa de España (mde.es)

Photo Credit: Ministerio de Defensa de España (mde.es)


Filed under General, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, News, Spain, Tunisia

Malta Says the 111 Rescued Migrants Aboard Spanish Frigate Are NATO’s Problem, Not Malta’s Problem

The stand-off between Malta, Spain, and NATO continues.  111 rescued migrants remain on board the Spanish Navy frigate, the Almirante Juan de Borbón.  Maltese authorities criticised the attempt to bring the rescued migrants to Malta and have said that the migrants should have been taken to Tunisia or Italy because both locations were closer to the original point of rescue.  Malta has now allowed a total of 5 migrants to be airlifted to Malta for medical care.  The frigate remains at sea near Malta with the 111 migrants, including women and children, and a crew of 250 sailors.

At a press conference yesterday, Maltese Interior Minister, Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici, said that while Malta decided to allow the transfer of several rescued migrants to Malta for emergency medical treatment, it has no intention of allowing the other rescued migrants to be disembarked in Malta.  According to the Times of Malta, Mifsud Bonnici said “the problem is not Malta’s, it is Nato’s.  Malta is a sovereign state and it demands that it be respected as such. This is not a standoff with Spain or Italy and we await Nato’s replies.”

It is unclear from various media reports whether Italian authorities formally refused permission to the Spanish frigate to dock in Lampedusa, but some reports suggest there was communication with Italian authorities who said that Lampedusa’s immigrant reception facilities were at capacity.  Well over a thousand migrants have landed in Lampedusa in recent days.

There are also some media reports which suggest that the Spanish government may be taking the position that since the Spanish frigate is under NATO command as part of Operation Unified Protector, NATO therefore must decide where the migrants are to be disembarked.

The head of the Armed Forces of Malta has taken the bizarre position that the Spanish ship is well-equipped to care for the rescued migrants and that therefore there is no urgency in regard to removing the migrants from the ship for humanitarian reasons.

Meanwhile, the NATO naval embargo of Libya is missing one ship.  NATO had 17 ships under its command patrolling the Central Mediterranean, now there are 16 ships.  The Spanish frigate has been effectively removed from its embargo duties as it waits for a resolution to the stand-off.  If and when another migrant boat requires rescue by a ship under NATO command, will the NATO embargo be further weakened?  The obligations of NATO ships to rescue migrant boats in distress under SOLAS are clear, and NATO has repeatedly said that it will rescue migrant boats when required, but one must be fearful of a situation arising, as it does with commercial ships, where a NATO vessel’s commander may be less willing to conclude that a migrant boat is in need of rescue knowing that the act of rescuing the migrants may result in the NATO ship being removed from its mission because it is unable to quickly disembark the rescued migrants.

Click here (EN), here (EN), here (ES), here (IT), and here (IT) for articles.

1 Comment

Filed under Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, News, Spain

Aditus Calls for Immediate Disembarkation of Stranded Migrants

A statement from Aditus, “an independent, voluntary & non-profit organisation established with a view to monitor, act & report on access to fundamental human rights by individuals & groups”, which is based in Malta:

14 July 2011

“’Once again, political discussions take precedence over human lives.  It is at times like these that our consciences are called to do what is right, to ensure a full respect for the fundamental human rights of all persons irrespectively of colour, origin and status.’

It appears that the Maltese and Italian authorities are once again disagreeing over where to disembark a group of around 100 rescued migrants.  Rescued earlier today by a Spanish frigate, the Almirante Juan de Borbón, the group of migrants seems to be largely composed of men but also includes several women and children.  According to news reports, the stranded migrants were rescued in Sunday morning yet the date of departure from Libyan shores is as yet unconfirmed.

It is important to emphasise that the rescued persons have fled a situation of civil war, and have possibly been through several harrowing experiences.  ‘It is unclear when they left Libya, yet they have definitely been out at sea for over 5 days.  This can only mean that they are probably exhausted, dehydrated and are in urgent need of physical and psychological assistance.  A warship is definitely not the place to provide this urgent assistance’, commented aditus Chairperson Dr. Neil Falzon.

aditus applauds the crew of the Juan de Borbón for rescuing the persons in distress, yet urges the Italian and Maltese authorities to immediately relieve the warship of rescued migrants, in the interests of both the latter and of the crew itself.  aditus further recalls that international maritime law requires a prompt disembarkation at a place of safety for all persons rescued at sea, and that any prolonged period spent aboard the warship poses severe security, humanitarian and human rights concerns.

aditus therefore appeals to the Italian and Maltese authorities to allow the immediate disembarkation of the rescued persons so that their safety may be guaranteed.

For the longer-term, the two States are urged to seek resolution to this on-going legal impasse that too often has resulted in these tragic incidents.  To this end, aditus strongly recommends the involvement of competent international and regional agencies particularly the European Union, the International Maritime Organisation and NATO.”

Click here for statement.

Leave a comment

Filed under Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, Spain, Statements

Italy and Malta Turn Back NATO Ship Carrying 100 Rescued Migrants

A political and diplomatic standoff is underway between Malta, Italy, Spain and NATO.  The Times of Malta is reporting that the Spanish frigate, the Almirante Juan de Borbón, carrying the 100 rescued migrants attempted to dock at Lampedusa after the rescue, “but the Italian authorities refused it entry  and directed the vessel to Malta, which also refused entry, arguing that Lampedusa was the nearest safe port.”  “The Spanish warship is now off Maltese waters while talks are held between Maltese, Italian and Spanish diplomats.  A meeting which included the Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici was being held this afternoon at the Auberge de Castille.  Nato is understood to have appealed to both Italy and Malta to accept the migrants.”  The Times of Malta also reported that a 10 month old baby was flown yesterday from the Spanish frigate to Malta for medical treatment and that a man and pregnant woman were airlifted to Malta today.

Click here for Times of Malta article.

Click here and here for previous posts.

1 Comment

Filed under European Union, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, News

Rescued Migrants Remain on NATO Ship While Consultations Continue Regarding Place of Disembarkation

According to information provided to me today by the NATO Public Affairs Office for Operation Unified Protector, most of the migrants who were rescued on 10-11 July by a NATO warship are still on board the Spanish Navy frigate.  An unspecified number of the migrants in need of immediate medical attention have been “off-loaded to safety” to an unidentified location.

While the NATO Public Affairs Office did not identify the NATO ship or its nationality, the Spanish Defence Ministry and Navy have previously confirmed that the Spanish frigate Almirante Juan de Borbón is the NATO ship that performed the rescue.

According to NATO, “the NATO Frigate responded [on 10 July] to a vessel in distress some 75 miles off the coast of Libya. A NATO ship [then] … provided medical support, food and offered mechanical assistance to the distressed civilians. [On the] 11th of July, the migrants (approximately 100), Ghanaians, Tunisians and Libyans, were transferred onto the NATO ship in accordance with the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) protocol…”

Most of the migrants remain on board the Spanish frigate.  NATO says that “the appropriate legal, diplomatic and military authorities are being consulted to determine future course of action.”

I have asked for further information regarding to what location the migrants who were in need of immediate medical attention have been taken.  The possibilities presumably are another ship with appropriate medical facilities, Tunisia, Libya, Italy, Malta, or Spain.

Click here for my previous post on this topic.

1 Comment

Filed under Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, News, Spain, Tunisia

Moreno-Lax, Int J Refugee Law, “Seeking Asylum in the Mediterranean: Against a Fragmentary Reading of EU Member States’ Obligations Accruing at Sea”

The latest edition of the International Journal of Refugee Law, contains an article by Violeta Moreno-Lax (PhD Candidate at Université catholique de Louvain; Visiting Fellow 2010-11 at Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford) entitled “Seeking Asylum in the Mediterranean: Against a Fragmentary Reading of EU Member States’ Obligations Accruing at Sea.”

Abstract: “Although both international and EU law impose a number of obligations on the EU Member States with regard to persons in distress at sea, their effective implementation is limited by the manner in which they are being interpreted. The fact that the persons concerned are migrants, who may seek asylum upon rescue, has given rise to frequent disputes and to episodes of non-compliance. Frontex missions and the Italian 2009 push-back campaign illustrate the issue. With the objective of clarifying the scope of common obligations and to establish minimum operational arrangements for joint maritime operations, the EU has adopted a set of common guidelines for the surveillance of the external maritime borders. On the basis of the principle of systemic interpretation, this article intends to contribute to the clarification of the main obligations in international and European law binding upon the EU Member States when they operate at sea.”

This is a revised and updated version of the paper presented at the 12th IASFM Conference held in Nicosia, 28 June-2 July 2009.  [The article was written and sent for typesetting before the various uprisings in North Africa – IJRL Editor, 4 March 2011]

Click here for link.  (Subscription or payment required.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Analysis, Eastern Atlantic, European Court of Human Rights, European Union, Frontex, Greece, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mauritania, Mediterranean, Senegal, Spain

NATO Policy Regarding Migrant Boats Leaving Libya

I posed several questions to NATO Maritime Command Naples asking what NATO’s policy is in regard to encounters between NATO ships and migrant boats leaving Libya.  NATO Maritime Command Naples is responsible for enforcing the maritime embargo of Libya known as Operation Unified Protector.  I also asked for more information about the encounter on 25-26 March between the Canadian navy ship, HMCS Charlottetown, and what was probably the first recent migrant boat from Libya.  This particular migrant boat was subsequently taken to Linosa by the Italian Coast Guard.

Today’s response from NATO’s public affairs office is fairly straightforward and states that NATO ships will respond to vessels or persons in distress.  The response suggests that NATO ships will otherwise not interfere with the passage of migrant boats unless a boat is suspected of carrying arms or mercenaries.  Presumably NATO would also seek to stop and board migrant vessels suspected of carrying any persons of particular interest to NATO, e.g. Libyan officials.

Here are my questions and the responses from the Public Affairs Office at NATO Maritime Command Naples:

Q:  Does Operation Unified Protector have plans or procedures in place regarding what to do in the situation where a NATO vessel encounters a boat or inflatable that is carrying irregular migrants or asylum seekers out of Libya and attempting to reach another country, e.g. Italy or Malta?

NATO:  Operation Unified Protector is part of the broad international effort to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack. The maritime portion of the operation foresees NATO warships and aircraft patrolling the approaches to Libyan territorial waters to reduce the flow of arms, related material and mercenaries to Libya as called for in UN Security Council Resolution 1973. Issues of migration or asylum seekers are not within the mandate of this specific NATO operation.

Q:  If there are plans or procedures for encounters with migrant boats, what do they provide for?

NATO:  A master of a ship at sea which is in a position to be able to provide assistance on receiving information from any source that persons are in distress at sea, is bound to proceed with all speed to their assistance, if possible informing them or the search and rescue service that the ship is doing so. This obligation to provide assistance applies regardless of the nationality or status of such persons or the circumstances in which they are found.

Q:  Additionally, can you provide details regarding what HMCS Charlottetown did on/about 26 March when it encountered a migrant boat carrying approximately 350 African migrants from Libya?  Did HMCS Charlottetown request assistance in connection with this encounter from the Italian Coast Guard or Navy or from Frontex?  What assistance, if any, was provided to the migrant boat?

NATO:  On 25 and 26 of March 2011, NATO ships patrolling in International Waters attended a boat to ensure there was not a case of Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). Assistance was offered in the form of technical expertise and supplies. NATO ships monitored the situation constantly throughout the stated period. For action taken by Italy with regard to this event we recommend you contact the appropriate authorities.

Q:  Does NATO anticipate that there may at some point be large numbers of non-Libyans or Libyans attempting to leave Libya by sea?

NATO:  We do not feel that we can speculate on this matter.

Click here for link to NATO Maritime Command Naples and here for link to Operation Unified Protector.


Filed under Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, News