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Seafarers need emergency protection following Maersk Etienne incident, says Danish officer's union

14 September 2020

Lederne Søfart, the union for Danish maritime officers, has called on international trade organisations to protect seafarers during sea rescues following the Maersk Etienne incident.

'The Maersk Etienne case is yet another example of how the seafarers are left behind when an international crisis causes a political deadlock,' the union's general secretary Sune Blinkenberg said. 'Seafarers are neutral in the geopolitical landscape and must be protected from situations like this.'

On 4 August the Danish-flagged Maersk Etienne picked up 27 migrants in Tunisian waters, at the request of Maltese authorities. The seafarers then endured a 38-day ordeal after multiple countries denied entry to the ship.

As well as looking after the migrants in inadequate conditions aboard the tanker, the crew had to save three who jumped overboard. In response to the humanitarian situation the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) and the European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA) wrote to EU Vice President Margaritis Schinas and Commissioner Ylva Johansson, asking them to coordinate talks between the governments involved to help resolve crisis.

The migrants have now been put ashore in Pozzallo, Sicily, and the crew of the Maersk Etienne are proceeding to Gibraltar.

'One must remember that seafarers are legally obliged to render assistance to persons in distress at sea. If they fail to meet these obligations, they can be prosecuted according to international law. The Maersk Etienne case leaves the shipmasters passing though the Mediterranean in a very tough situation,' Mr Blinkenberg said.

'It is not fair; it is not right and international society must act now. It is the same society that asks seafarers to keep operating their vessels to keep global supply chains open during the Covid-19 pandemic.

'The World Trade Organization and other global trade organisations must start looking ahead and change their policies to include emergency plans for keeping the workers in their global supply chains safe,' he concluded.