United Nations officials are claiming that the European Union’s Operation Triton puts too much responsibility on private ship owners and will ultimately leave migrants left in treacherous waters with no one to come to their rescue.
Meanwhile, UN officials are also condemning some members of the EU for their refusal to rescue migrants from Africa and the Middle East who are crossing the Mediterranean in an attempt to flee from violence in their own countries.
After the EU announced its plans to launch Operation Triton at the beginning of this month, the union expected much more support from its member states.
While countries like Germany, France and Spain indicated that they were willing to help out with efforts to save the migrants traveling treacherous waters in order to escape violence in their native countries, the UK has decided not to be a part of any rescue missions.
UK officials said that rescuing migrants will only encourage others to try to make the same treacherous journey across the Mediterranean, thus putting more lives in danger.
“I think that it is an utterly outrageous statement to make that it is a good thing not to save lives because it may put other people off trying to travel across the Mediterranean,” said Peter Sutherland, the UN special envoy for migration, during an interview with BBC’s “Newsday.” “I just find it incomprehensible that that argument could be considered to be morally justified.”
That kind of lack of support from members of the EU is yet another reason why officials are doubting that Operation Triton will be much of a success.
Operation Triton is already a significantly smaller plan than the previous Italian mission, Mare Nostrum, which it is replacing. With only six ships at its disposal, UN officials are concerned that Operation Triton will rely too heavily on merchants to make rescues while out at sea.
“The big question mark is, now what’s going to be the responsibility of private ship owners to rescue people in the high sea, because so far there was some sort of predictability with the rescue at sea on the Italian navy,” said Vincent Cochetel of the UN refugee agency.
In the past Italian navy ships “took the lead to save lives” under the Mare Nostrum operation, but now it could be up to merchant ships to take that lead.
“Now that responsibility is going to be transferred to those private ship owners – will they switch on or switch off their signals when they get the call from the rescue center in Rome,” Cochetel asked.
According to Cochetel, the answer has already been made clear once in the past.
Once the rescue center placed a call to all of the ships, however, suddenly the ships started cutting off points of contact.
“The call center called them all, and within one minute there were only six ships left on the radar screen,” he said. “All the others switched off their radar signal.”
Operation Triton’s budget is less than a third of the budget that was allocated to Mare Nostrum.
Mare Nostrum was costing Italy an average of €9 million (about $11.2 million) a month while Triton will cost €2.9 million (about $3.7 million) a month.
While the operations are expensive to carry out, there are an incredible amount of lives at risk.
Reports suggest that about 150,000 migrants have been rescued this year alone.
According to the International Organization for Migration, roughly 3,000 people have died in shipwrecks as they tried to cross the Mediterranean.