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BIICL publishes new report: When Private Vessels Rescue Migrants and Refugees

BIICL is delighted to launch a new report: When Private Vessels Rescue Migrants and Refugees: A Mapping of Legal Considerations

The report, which is the main output of a Mirpuri Foundation funded research project, explores the law around search and rescue particularly from the perspective of private vessels. It does so by undertaking a systemic analysis of how the UNGP's Second Pillar principles apply in the rescue context and by highlighting the commercial implications of search and rescue including deviation and delays. 

On the human rights front, it highlights two key human rights concerns namely the right to life, which requires that persons in distress are indeed rescued, and the principle of non-refoulment which broadly requires that rescued persons are not returned to a country where they face serious human rights violations. Other human rights, including the right to health are also discussed. Masters and shipowners must ensure that they have policies in place, as well as equipment and training to prevent and refrain from contributing to human rights violations. This is made more complicated when vessels receive instructions from coastal states responsible for search and rescue operations that directly contradict the human rights imperatives.

Commercially, rescue can cause significant financial cost to the various operators involved including shipowners, charterers and P&I Clubs and the allocation of those various costs is critical to ensure that parties are obtaining the relevant coverage. Finally, the report covers the role of States including the due diligence obligations of flag States to ensure vessels flying their flag abide both by the obligation to rescue and other international law requirements, and of coastal States to both cooperate in ensuring that disembarkation is allowed promptly and that instructions in violation of international law are not given. The report argues that by instructing private vessels to return persons to unsafe countries, SAR States are responsible both because the instruction itself is in violation of human rights standards, and through instructing and directing a wrongful act. The report is authored by Dr Jean-Pierre Gauci, Arthur Watts Senior Research Fellow in Public International Law. 

Find out more and read the report here.


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