Archive for International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea

The Law of the Sea

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , , , , on August 10, 2020 by telescoper

There are few things more despicable than a Government that manufactures outrage in order to distract from its own failings. The latest example  is the UK Government’s ridiculous response to a few desperate migrants crossing the English Channel in boats. The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has appointed a “Clandestine Channel Threat Commander” (whatever that is supposed to mean) and is apparently considering sending Royal Navy to protect the United Kingdom from the terrifying women and small children arriving in dinghies. Pathetic.

Mind you, I think sending the Royal Navy to the Channel is in some ways a good idea. Once there they could offer greater assistance to small boats in peril on the sea and bring their occupants safely to port in England. That, after all, would be their duty under international law. I know we can’t expect the Home Secretary to either know or care about the law, but I suspect Royal Navy officers do. The Law of the Sea is far older than any Government.

Following age-old maritime traditions, the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) obliges that a ship’s master “render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being lost” and to rescue those in distress so long “as he can do so without serious danger to the ship, the crew or the passengers” of his own vessel. The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) includes a similar obligation requiring ship masters, on hearing about a vessel in distress, to provide assistance and inform the search and rescue service that they are doing so. The International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue requires parties to provide assistance to anyone in distress “regardless of the nationality or status of such a person or the circumstances in which that person is found.” These laws require the rescue of survivors from unseaworthy vessels crossing the English Channel as much as they do to the Mediterranean (where they are sadly routinely flouted).

Not only is there both a moral and a legal duty to rescue those in danger of losing their life at sea, it is the responsibility of the rescuer to take them to a place of safety. Amendments to the Convention for Safety of Life at Sea and the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue codify this obligation of Member States to ensure that the rescued survivors disembark the vessel in a safe place. A safe place is one “where their basic human needs (such as food, shelter and medical needs) can be met.” People rescued in national territorial waters (usually within 12 miles of the coast) become the responsibility of the nation concerned.

There is a far greater humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean, of course, and we should not forget the failure of other countries (and the European Union) to deal with it properly, but that is not an excuse for Britain to behave so callously.

I saw a comment on Twitter the other day – from a person I subsequently blocked – arguing that migrant boats should be rammed and the occupants allowed to drown. Proudly in his Twitter profile was the slogan. `ALL LIVES MATTER’.