Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Multipurpose Cargo and Container Shipping Rescues Hundreds in September

Pirates Notwithstanding, there are Other Human Tragedies at Sea
Shipping News Feature

ITALY – MEDITERRANEAN – Whilst stories based on the tragedy inflicted by pirates have proved grist to the publicity mill over the past few years, merchant shipping has had a massive part to play in another human tragedy which persistently misses the headlines. During the last two weeks of September we have reports of at least three container and multipurpose cargo vessels which played their part in rescuing hundreds of lives out at sea.

The Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) in Rome must be a very busy place. On the 14th September the BBC Iceland, a 4,900 dwt multipurpose vessel managed by German group Briese Schiffahrt and en route from Libya was called by the Italian coordinators to a point south of Sicily where she cooperated in the rescue of 134 fleeing Syrian refugees. Just ten days later, another ship from the company’s fleet, the BBC Fuji, a larger multipurpose cargo carrier of 9,600 dwt received a similar request and changed course to intercept an unknown craft said to be in serious trouble.

The ship arrived on the scene early the next morning to find 117 people, including 16 women and 6 children, crammed into a rubber boat. The refugees were in poor condition but told the crew of the merchantman that there was another boat lost in the area. The Fuji’s crew transferred the information and, under instruction from the Italian coastguard, made passage to Augusta, docking sixteen hours later and discharging the refugees who were from Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Sudan, into the care of the authorities before continuing on to Gibraltar as planned.

Meanwhile another German vessel, the König & Cie owned container ship King Julius, was heading from Khoms, Libya, to Palermo, Italy when, on the 25th September, about the time the refugees were being debriefed in Augusta, she received a request from MRCC Rome to change course, again to a point south of Sicily. The 1,129 TEU vessel then transferred 80 people, again from a small rubber boat before receiving a second call at 05:00 hours on the 26th to look out for yet another craft.

A second rescue meant another 103 souls from Somalia, Eritrea and Kenya being taken aboard, the women and children kept safe in the officers’ mess whilst in calm weather conditions the men were able to be retained on deck. The King Julius then proceeded to Palermo where Red Cross medical personnel came aboard to check on the condition of before the vessel could be released to continue her voyage.

Photo: Dozens of refugees wearing life preservers swarm up a rope ladder to board the King Julius.