Human tragedy in the Med

It’s highly likely that there will be some uneasy shuffling in seats among the Eurocrats next time a flimsy boat crammed with migrants sinks in the Mediterranean.

The danger is that it could be accompanied by another considerable loss of life as the new EU-led Operation Triton struggles to replace the previous life-saving heroics often performed by the Italian Navy and Coastguard under the Mare Nostrum banner.

00 Med

There’s no hiding the fact that Triton is primarily a border control task rather than a search and rescue operation, a status that has left human rights organisations fearing the worst.

Once the transition cover promised by the Italians runs out in two months’ time, the coverage of wintry Mediterranean seas will be even less. It’s arguable whether potentially harsh winter seas will deter desperate migrants from areas such as Syria or Eritrea or stop the traffickers who will have no eye to the weather or the heightened danger, only the appetite to exploit these unfortunate refugees.

Over 2,500 have already perished this year and there are undoubtedly more to come. Like famine and disease, it’s a human tragedy but one where there’s little end in sight as conflict rips apart areas of the Middle East and Africa.

In Europe, the influx of hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers is also a political hot potato that partly explains the lukewarm response by many European countries to the appeal for assets to support Operation Triton.

One of those offering only limited support is the UK and it’s difficult to argue with the claim that the way to halt these migrant voyages is to apprehend the traffickers who are prepared to sell these one-way tickets, often to tragedy.

The law of the sea demands that seafarers attempt to rescue those in peril. All of a sudden, the challenge for the personnel of Operation Triton has become a whole lot tougher.

Philip Rood

Philip has spent much of his career in the maritime sector as a journalist and media relations professional specialising in maritime affairs and was also head of media relations at former naval shipbuilder and support services company VT Group.

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