Migrant Rescue At Sea: Is Your Yacht Prepared?

Every year, thousands of desperate people are fleeing their country by sea to escape persecution, war, and violence. Migrants resort to using small vessels to cross seas, carrying anywhere between 10 and 850 individuals. An encounter with one of these migrant vessels raises a whole range of questions and safety issues for owners and their vessels, such as stability, security, safety of vessel and crew, food and medical supplies, and loss of earnings to the owner.

The issue is not new, and refugee migration is happening the world over. Under International Maritime Law, the Master of each vessel has an obligation to render assistance to those in distress at sea without regard to their nationality, status, or the circumstances in which they are found.

Captains and crew have to face the reality that they may encounter or be called upon to render assistance to a vessel in the near future. The key is being prepared. Masters should carry out a full risk assessment to identify the hazards, as well as safety and security risks associated with a large-scale rescue at sea.

Points to be considered when preparing the Risk Assessment and Standard Operating Procedure’s:

IDENTIFY | Identify known migrant routes and mark on charts, post extra lookouts, and be vigilant. Report any sightings immediately to the nearest RCC (Rescue Coordination Centre).

PREPARE | Have contact details of RCCs, NGOs, and authorities on the bridge. Check PPE, medical, and lifesaving supplies.

TRAIN & DRILL | Make humanitarian rescue part of the muster duties. Allocate tasks, practice embarkation methods, hold tabletop discussions on best practices and train on crowd control.

RESCUE | Provide immediate assistance if persons are in the water. Consider the use of life rafts if migrant vessel is sinking. Consider launching tenders. Board women, children, and frail first. If vessel is floating, consider standing by until the Coast Guard arrives. Manoeuvre your vessel to provide shelter to the migrant vessel.

SECURE & PROTECT | Before embarking any persons, set up a reception area where people are searched and documented before being allowed to the holding area. Treat all persons with humanity, crew to work in pairs. Wear PPE and reduce entry to one designated point. Allocate sanitary facilities, provide food and water and render medical assistance.

RESTORE | Disinfect and sanitize the vessel, give crew adequate rest. Offer trauma advice and replenish used medical and PPE supplies. Always check for stowaways.

Being prepared can, and will, save lives.