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Migration and Maritime Security

Migration of people is not a new phenomenon.  In the last ten years, owing to civil strife, economic hardship and conflict, there have been unprecedented migration flows, particularly towards Europe.  Insofar as migration has the potential to affect the security and safety of our members’ crews and operations, it is an immediate concern to our members.  Many IMCA members will have at one time, or another had assets travelling through areas where there may be migrant traffic.  Vessels operated by more than one IMCA member have found it necessary to stop to rescue migrants in distress in a small boat. 

One area where this has happened is the English Channel.  In 2021 more than 28,000 migrants crossed the English Channel from France to the UK in small boats.  At least 44 people died or went missing during the attempt. (PA news agency).  On November 11, 2021, over 1000 people crossed the Channel in a single day.  Boats engaged in the crossing are carrying as many as 50 people at a time.  On November 24, at least 27 people died during an attempted crossing in a boat described by officials as a little better than an inflatable swimming pool[1]

This briefing points to where appropriate guidance can be found for IMCA members on how to deal with migration when encountered in the maritime context.  This is loosely based on a combination of our own members’ input and on guidance from the International Chamber of Shipping on large scale rescue operations at sea – found here.

  • Be aware of your legal obligations
    • Providing assistance to any person in distress at sea is a clear legal requirement under International Maritime Law. As well as a moral and legal duty to rescue people at sea, our members also have similar duties to ensure the security and safety of their own people and assets.
  • Keep everyone informed
    • This can include keeping all stakeholders – the crew, the vessel management, owners, Flag State, client, and other shore-based authorities, such as local Coastal State Authorities, fully appraised of the situation.
  • Make proper preparations
    • Ensure the vessel crew are properly briefed and equipped;
    • Secure the bridge, crew accommodation, control stations and other sensitive and hazardous areas;
    • As far as possible, prepare sheltered and safe accommodation areas;
    • If vessels are likely to be transiting “migration zones”, reasonable stocks of long shelf life basic foodstuffs and access to clean drinking water and sanitary facilities may be maintained on board;
    • It may be appropriate to arrange additional first aid and medical resources to be maintained on board.
  • Embarkation of rescued persons
    • Maintain a thorough log or record at all times and keep an accurate count of the total number of people on board;
    • Keep control of embarkation of migrants via a single point of access;
    • Move embarked migrants away from the point of entry to the vessel;
    • Remain vigilant: keep a close watch on the security of all areas of the vessel, and consider appropriate use of deck lighting to ensure that crew monitoring those rescued and those rescued are able to be seen;
    • Be aware of the extreme situation and extended workload on the crew associated with the control/management of large numbers of migrants;
    • Keep in close contact with the authorities ashore regarding disembarkation arrangements.
  • Disembarkation and follow-up;
    • Arrange appropriate cleaning materials for use after disembarkation of migrants;
    • Make a thorough check for stowaways;
    • Assess the welfare needs of the crew.

Members may wish to refer also to:

[1] Source:

IMCA Contact

Nicholas Hough
Consultant - Safety and Security

Information Note Details

Published date: 3 March 2022
Information note ID: 1607


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IMCA makes every effort to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the data contained in the documents it publishes, but IMCA shall not be liable for any guidance and/or recommendation and/or statement herein contained. The information contained in this document does not fulfil or replace any individual’s or Member's legal, regulatory or other duties or obligations in respect of their operations. Individuals and Members remain solely responsible for the safe, lawful and proper conduct of their operations.