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Cruise ship which saved 22 people in Aegean Sea praised by UNHCR


Cruise ship which saved 22 people in Aegean Sea praised by UNHCR

The UN refugee agency today praised the captain and crew of the MS Noordam, a Dutch-registered cruise liner, for rescuing 22 people whose boat had sunk in the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey.
8 June 2006
A fast rescue boat lowered by the MS Noordam cruise ship returns with some of the 22 people saved from drowning when their boat capsized in the Aegean Sea. Photo courtesy of and

GENEVA, June 8 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency today praised the captain and crew of the MS Noordam, a Dutch-registered cruise liner, for saving 22 people whose boat had sunk in the Aegean Sea.

Early Tuesday morning, as the MS Noordam sailed through the clear blue waters of the Aegean Sea, a sailor working on the aft of the ship spotted a person floating in the water. A rescue mission was immediately launched, using a fast rescue boat and two tenders.

More than two hours later, 22 people, all wearing life jackets, were safe on board with medical staff on the ship treating those who needed attention. One child, who was not wearing a life vest, was later found dead by the Greek authorities, according to the shipping company.

The Noordam, a Dutch-registered 82,500-ton cruise ship belonging to the Holland America Line, was on its way from the Greek port of Santorini to the tourist town of Kusadasi on Turkey's Aegean coast, when the people were spotted in the water, some four miles off the coast of the Greek island of Samos. There is no information on how long they had been in the sea.

"In a situation such as this we are certainly happy to have helped so many people in dire circumstances. The crew performed admirably," said Stein Kruse, Holland America Line's president in a statement.

The people rescued, from various countries including Somalia and Iraq, were allowed to disembark in Kusadasi, Turkey, several hours after their rescue.

"Holland America Line is proud of the crew of MS Noordam, which acted correctly by saving lives," stated the ship's captain, Johannes Mateboer, in a ship-to-shore message. "The ship's decision to rescue people in imminent danger of losing their lives is entirely consistent with its moral and legal obligations."

Shipmasters have an obligation under international law to rescue any persons in distress at sea. Persons rescued at sea should be disembarked at the next port of call, where they should be admitted.

"We want to commend the shipmaster and crew of the MS Noordam for their humanitarian act and for upholding international law and custom," UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in Geneva on Thursday. "We are also grateful to the government of Turkey for receiving these people in need."

"This incident highlights the urgent need for states to cooperate in order to prevent the tragedies that are occurring almost daily, in the Mediterranean and elsewhere, when people use desperate means to seek a better life or refuge," added Guterres.

The rising death toll at sea has put the issue of irregular migration on the international agenda. Over the last decade, thousands of people, including migrants, asylum seekers, refugees and victims of human trafficking, have died attempting to reach Europe by sea.

"Rarely a week goes by without some news of an unseaworthy boat that has sunk with its passengers on board, dead bodies being washed ashore on the holiday beaches of southern Europe, and people who have paid huge sums of money to human smugglers whose last concern is the welfare of their clients," said Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Erika Feller, last month, at the opening of a conference on maritime interception and rescue at sea in the Mediterranean.

The conference, organised by UNHCR with funding from the European Union and the hospitality of the Spanish government, brought together representatives from Mediterranean states, the EU and partner organisations, in order to foster greater understanding of the dynamics of maritime movements. It also sought to promote practical and effective cooperation to respond to the humanitarian and protection dimensions of irregular migration.

Turkey is a transit country for a large number of people trying to reach Western Europe. Since the late 1990s, Turkey has made considerable efforts to improve the institutional, legal and administrative framework and procedures in the areas of migration and asylum.

The MS Noordam's fast rescue boat plucks one of those saved from the Aegean Sea.

UNHCR is working closely with the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and other relevant UN agencies to safeguard the integrity of the international search and rescue regime so as to offer support and guidance to ships' masters who come to the aid of refugees and asylum seekers in difficulty at sea.

At a time when captains are constantly asked to boost efficiency and cut costs, it remains vital that they continue to take the time and trouble to rescue people in peril - whether they are refugees or any other people in distress.

Last September, a Danish-registered ship, the Eli Maersk, picked up 39 people shipwrecked in the Gulf of Aden. Another Danish ship, the MV Clementine Maersk, rescued 27 stranded boat people in the Mediterranean Sea in May last year. In 2001, the Norwegian freighter MV Tampa rescued 433 asylum seekers from a sinking fishing boat off the Australian coast.