Thursday, August 16, 2012 -
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On August 13 car carrier Parsifal rescued 67 asylum-seekers from a people-smuggling boat off the Indonesian island of Java in response to a distress call relayed by Australian authorities. Vessel was going to continue her voyage to Singapore with the approval of Australian Maritime Authorities, but immigrants learned of the Master’s intention and “became very aggressive”. Fearing for vessel and crew, Master had to change the course and sail to Australian Christmas Island, at the immigrants demand. On August 16 asylum-seekers were accused of an act of piracy by Australian opposition spokesman Scott Morrison. Prime Minister Julia Gillard conceded that if there had been "a breach of any relevant laws then of course it has to be properly investigated".
This is one more untold saga of the high seas – illegal immigrants and hapless crews jammed between the risk of criminal prosecution if they are found to deliberately avoid distressed migrants, and the risk of rescuing absolute aliens to the crew, with unpredictable behaviour and high risk of violence or confrontation. For example a friend of mine was once working on a vessel which rescued several North African migrants, they requested a special food for them without pork, and other things which they consider profane. The instruction for the crew in case they rescue migrants is in fact, an instruction for a high security prison wardens. There are many cases when migrants can’t leave the vessel which rescued them for months and years, because the only State which may accept them is their native State, and vessel may not visit that State for years, or never. The problem is rather simple to understand, even for a person who was never at sea or on board of the vessel. Imagine your house invaded by dozens of aliens whom you’ll have to lodge, feed and somehow help to reach their goal, on the only ground of them being homeless. Imagine them speaking a language you can’t understand, sticking to their manners and rituals, and demanding you to respect their religion and habits, whatever strange and inconvenient they may be. At most, you’ll get “thanks” for all your trouble, at worst you may encounter violence and even hijack.
Authorities and public are quick in blaming seafarers for their violation of basic law of rescuing distressed people at sea, but at the same time, they’re too politically correct to face the problem as it is. As long as there is no official and public recognition of the problem in all its’ aspects, and no universal and acceptable for shipping solution, crews do and will do everything possible to avoid the distressed asylum-seekers, simply because seafarers want to stay out of trouble and potential risks. If they receive a distress message or Navigational warning advising to assist boats with asylum-seekers, they give the area where such a boat is located a wide berth.
Car carrier Parsifal IMO 9515395, GRT 75251, built 2011, flag Singapore, manager WALLENIUS MARINE SINGAPORE PTE LTD.