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UNHCR praises cruise ship crew for Aegean Sea rescue

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UNHCR praises cruise ship crew for Aegean Sea rescue

8 June 2006

GENEVA, 8 June 2006 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency today praised the rescue of 22 people whose vessel had sunk in the Aegean Sea by the crew of the MS Noordam, a Dutch-registered cruise ship of the Holland America Line.

The ship was on its way from the Greek city of Piraeus to the Turkish port of Kusadasi on Tuesday, when the crew spotted several people in the water off the Greek island of Samos. The MS Noordam was able to rescue a total of 22 people from various countries, including Somalia and Iraq. There was at least one asylum seeker among those rescued. Sadly, one child drowned before the group could be rescued. The group disembarked at the Turkish port of Kusadasi on Wednesday.

"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. "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.

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.

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, at least on a temporary basis. 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.