A fishing vessel harboring Illegal immigrants of Tunisian, Congolese and Ivorian descent was intercepted by a Coast Guard patrol boat on 18th August off Tunis, in their attempt to make way to Italy. When the coast guard vessel ordered them to stop, the immigrants started throwing dangerous Molotov cocktails at the coast guard.
But as luck would have it, the migrants ended up setting their own vessel on fire. Four Tunisians were arrested along with eight migrants from the Ivory Coast and two from Congo and one of them was hospitalized for burns. Tragically enough 4 of those 14 migrants lost their life in the process while the Coast Guard vessel sustained damages.
It’s no surprise that a growing number of Tunisians are choosing to leave their homeland behind and take on the risk of going across the Mediterranean in search of a better lifestyle in Europe.
In the first half of 2018, nearly 2,660 people were arrested in Tunisia during attempts to make the sea crossing, compared to number amounting to only 564 during the same course of time last year. Several deadly shipwrecks have taken place in recent months, including one on 3 June that killed 87 people.
This is a serious issue – imagine tens or hundreds of migrants, picked up by a vessel and creating a ruckus if the ship is refused entry by a port or stuck at sea for indefinite periods of time. Imagine if the ship attempts to disembark them at a place other than their proposed destination. What if they try to raid the on-board supplies (food, medicine) and pose threats when refused? Imagine it’s a tanker in load, or dry cargo ship loaded with dangerous goods (any given container ship has containers with hazmat on board).
Any incident, intended or not can cause huge losses in terms of life and property. Therefore, all parties who are propagating merchant vessels to take part in “migrants rescue”, are waiting for disaster to strike and that too sooner rather than later. Merchant ship must be officially banned from “migrants rescue” operations, as Law of the Sea has nothing to do with “migrants rescue”.