Maersk’s Uggla pleads governments to repatriate tanker seafarers

Migrants onboard the Sea-Watch 4 civil sea rescue ship watch towards the oil tanker Maersk Etienne off the coast of Malta on August 27, 2020. - Since the Maersk oil tanker picked up a group of 27 migrants at the beginning of August 2020 in the Mediterranean, the vessel has been anchored off the coast of Malta, seeking permission for the refugees to disembark in a safe harbour. Credit: THOMAS LOHNES/AFP via Getty Images

Robert Maersk Uggla, CEO Maersk, on 3 September, issued a desperate plea to the responsible authorities to find a solution for the 27 migrants currently onboard tanker Etienne Maersk. 

The Danish flagged vessel, responded to a request from Maltese officials, on 4 August, to provide assistance to a migrant vessel that encountered difficulties. Since then the rescued migrants have remained onboard with governments refusing to allow them disembarkation rights. 

Uggla noted how the case sets a terrible precedent for the global merchant fleet, as this is the longest time migrants have been onboard a commercial vessel without assistance or disembarkation rights. “While our Group has rescued thousands of people over the years, we struggle to remember ever having a case, where a vessel and its crew have been left without support from authorities for so long,” said Uggla in a LinkedIn statement.

Kis Soegaard, head of Maesk communications, said that the tanker is not designed nor equipped to accommodate additional people, nor does it have the adequate facilities or medical care to support this vulnerable group, which includes a pregnant woman and a minor. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic governments are shying away from their legal responsibilities. Ships have an obligation to attempt to rescue persons considered at danger at sea. This is stated in both Article 98 of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, and Regulation V-33 of the International Convention for the Safety of Lives at Sea (SOLAS). Governments are obligedunder SOLAS amendments, to coordinate and cooperate so that persons rescued at sea are disembarked in a place of safety as soon as possible. 

As with the crew change crisis, governments appear to be falling short in their obligations, it states clearly in the Maritime Labour Convention that the responsibility of repatriation falls to the nation state, should the ship owner or flag State be unable to carry it out 

While many of us acknowledge the challenging political considerations, we are desperately awaiting Malta and Denmark to find a solution for the refugees, with EU or other relevant parties, so the ship and its crew are released,” said Uggla 

Crews cannot remain onboard indefinitely, as with the case of migrants.