Nansen Award for captain, crew and owner of 'Tampa'

GENEVA - The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees today announced that this year's Nansen Refugee Award will go to the captain, crew and owner of the Norwegian container ship "Tampa", which rescued hundreds of shipwrecked asylum seekers in the Indian Ocean last August.

The Nansen Refugee Award is given annually to individuals or organisations that have distinguished themselves in work on behalf of refugees.

The Nansen Committee, which grants the award, said Capt. Arne Rinnan and his crew, as well as the Tampa's Norwegian owner, Wilhem Wilhemsen Lines, demonstrated personal courage and a unique degree of commitment to refugee protection.

Capt. Rinnan was in charge of the Tampa when it rescued 438 boat people in the Indian Ocean on 26 August 2001. Despite the risk of substantial delays and a large financial loss to the company, the huge container ship - unequipped to carry a large number of passengers - altered its course to rescue the asylum seekers.

Wilhem Wilhemsen Lines has a long record of rescues at sea. Since 1977, the company's vessels have saved more than 1,300 people in various situations.

The Nansen Refugee Award Committee said it decided to give the prize to the Tampa to honour its international commitment to the principle of rescue at sea. Such rescues are often linked to refugee protection, the committee said, noting that refugees fleeing persecution frequently use unseaworthy vessels in a bid to reach safety.

The Nansen Refugee Award is named after Fridtjof Nansen, renowned Norwegian polar explorer and the world's first international refugee official. The award was created in 1954. Previous recipients include Eleanor Roosevelt, King Juan Carlos I of Spain, Médecins Sans Frontières, the late Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere and the People of Canada. Last year, the award went to Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti.

The prize, which includes $100,000 for a refugee project of the recipient's choice, will be formally presented in Oslo, Norway, on June 20 - World Refugee Day.