The news follows the deaths of some 3,500 illegal migrants since 2014 - many of them refugees from warzones in the Middle East - on passages across the Med in “overcrowded boats not fit for purpose”.
The joint letter to the leaders of all 28 EU member states was signed by the European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA), the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF), the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).
Merchant vessels, which are legally obliged to rescue anyone in distress at sea, rescued around 40,000 people in 2014 and that number is expected to rise "dramatically".
In some instances, single rescues can involve ships taking onboard over 500 people, placing significant stress on the ship and its crew. One such example was a rescue of 510 people by the CS Caprice in October last year.
The signatory agencies commended the efforts of coastguards and governments on the front line, but called on the wider EU to provide resources to increase search and rescue capabilities.
"In addition to increasing SAR resources, there is also an urgent need for EU and EEA Member States to develop a political solution. As suggested by UNHCR and other UN agencies, including the International Maritime Organization, the shipping industry believes that the EU and the international community need to provide refugees and migrants with alternative means of finding safety without risking their lives by crossing the Mediterranean in unseaworthy boats," the letter stated.
A meeting of UN agencies in London in early March led to an agreement to create a mechanism for improving communication on the subject of migration by sea.
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