Migration crisis in the Mediterranean

05 February 2018

In recent months, human smugglers have begun to test alternative routes into Europe, with migrants increasingly opting to take newer passages than the central Mediterranean corridor, which has seen thousands of migrants leave Libya in an attempt to reach Italy. With Libya’s coastguard, aided by local militias, tightening controls, new routes have emerged.

According to the latest figures released by the UN, in August 2017 Mediterranean arrivals to the EU fell from just over 26,000 people in June to below 10,000. However, in September, the Romanian coastguard reported that a new route had emerged as, in recent months, increasing numbers of migrants have been reaching its shores, travelling across the Black Sea from Turkey.

According to Romania’s coastguard, from August to September 2017, 475 people reached its shores, with officials reporting migrants coming from the Middle East. While this figure is relatively low, when compared to the thousands of migrants that reached the Greek islands on a daily basis at the height of the arrivals in 2015, the number does represent a sharp increase from a total of 500 migrants who completed the same route between 2013 to 2015, prompting speculation that a new corridor into Europe has opened up.

Spain has also witnessed a sharp rise in migrant arrivals this year, further fuelling speculation that human smugglers are looking for alternative routes to enter the bloc after Mediterranean crossings from Libya were made difficult last year. According to the IOM, since the beginning of 2017, 11,842 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to Spain, with the vast majority being sub-Saharan Africans fleeing poverty or conflict in their home countries.

While some used human traffickers to reach Spain, others pooled their money to purchase motorised, inflatable boats.

As Europe has attempted to prevent migrants from reaching its shores, newer routes have emerged as demands to reach safer countries continue. However, with a number of humanitarian organisations suspending their operations in the Mediterranean this year, citing security concerns including what they have called increasing instability off the coast of Libya, coupled with refusals to comply with the Italian government’s code of conduct on Mediterranean rescues, merchant vessels transiting these waters will now likely be increasingly called upon to rescue migrants in distress wherever they are compelled to under regulation 33 of the SOLAS Convention.

This will create logistical issues for shipping companies, as neither the merchant vessels nor the crew members are equipped to carry out large rescue missions. There will also be concerns about the vessel’s cargo, with some carrying dangerous, flammable goods. There are fears, too, that some of the people they rescue, including smugglers, may be armed and may pose a direct danger to the vessel and all those on board. Rescues of persons in distress will also add costs and will delay vessels arriving at their final port destination. With no end in sight to the migration crisis, shipping companies operating vessels in the Mediterranean will now have to prepare to play a greater role in rescue operations until regional powers redeploy naval and coastguard assets.

Thank you to MS Risk for their contributions to this article

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For further information please contact Sean Woollerson, Senior Partner on +44 20 7558 3864 or email sean_woollerson@jltgroup.com