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UNHCR urges disembarkation for people on boat in West Africa

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UNHCR urges disembarkation for people on boat in West Africa

8 February 2007

8 February 2007

GENEVA - The UN refugee agency is seriously concerned about the situation on board a ship off the West African coast, reportedly carrying up to 400 people who have not been allowed to disembark for several days now. The passengers are believed to be of various nationalities.

The Marine I was spotted on 30 January, apparently adrift, by the Spanish air rescue service. A day later, a tug boat from the Spanish rescue service approached the ship and has been accompanying it since.

"UNHCR urges, on humanitarian grounds, that people on board this ship be allowed to disembark as soon as possible," said George Okoth-Obbo, UNHCR Director for Protection. "At this point in time, the main priority should be to help these people and not let them drift on the high seas in precarious conditions."

It is not clear whether there are people onboard Marine I who seek asylum. "Measures must be in place to identify persons who wish to seek asylum or may be in need of international protection and to channel such claims appropriately," Okoth-Obbo added.

The Spanish Red Cross and the Mauritanian Red Crescent are delivering relief supplies to alleviate the immediate needs of the passengers.

In the past, vessels fulfilling their duty to rescue those in peril at sea have encountered problems disembarking those rescued.

"This state of affairs can seriously threaten the integrity of the time-honoured humanitarian tradition and legal obligation to assist people in distress at sea," said Okoth-Obbo.

To help shipmasters, ship owners, government authorities, insurance companies, and other interested parties involved in rescue at sea situations, UNHCR and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) have issued an information leaflet that provides guidance on relevant legal provisions and procedures.