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Praise for sea rescue captain

PUBLISHED: 04:12 15 June 2005 | UPDATED: 05:56 02 March 2010

UNITED Nations officials have today praised the captain of a container ship which rescued 27 men and boy refugees and brought them safely to Britain.

It has been revealed several ships simply sailed past the refugees as they drifted in their small boat off the coast of Sicily in the Mediterranean.

UNITED Nations officials have today praised the captain of a container ship which rescued 27 men and boy refugees and brought them safely to Britain.

It has been revealed several ships simply sailed past the refugees as they drifted in their small boat off the coast of Sicily in the Mediterranean.

But the captain of the Clementine Maersk, one of the world's largest container vessels rescued the boatload, mostly from Somalia, and then delivered them to the authorities at Felixstowe, his next port of call.

He has been criticised in some quarters for not seeking an earlier berth at another port rather than bring the refugees to Britain, but the UN High Commission for Refugees said he had taken the correct course of action.

Pirkko Kourula, director of the UNHCR's Europe Bureau, said: "We are very grateful that the captain followed international maritime law and custom, as well as his moral instincts, and rescued the group from their boat.

"But we are also disturbed to hear that other ships apparently ignored them and left them to what might have been a disastrous fate.

"We're also glad that the UK government agreed to allow the group to disembark on its territory.

"We know of other situations when groups or individuals have been bounced from port to port as country after country refuses to accept them on their territory.

"In this case, the UK accepted the captain's prerogative to continue to the next scheduled port of call."

The refugees, 24 Somalis, two Tunisians and one Palestinian, told the crew of the Maersk Sealand vessel several ships had steamed by without heeding their pleas for help, although they were unable to identify any of those vessels.

They were adrift for eight days before they were picked up.

Of those rescued, 26 are now seeking asylum. One Tunisian man asked to be returned to his homeland and remained on board the ship.

The UK authorities completed interviews with those rescued on board, while the cargo was off-loaded, and then let the asylum seekers go ashore.

UNHCR is working closely with maritime organisations to offer support and guidance to ships' masters who come to the aid of refugees and asylum seekers in difficulty at sea and say it is vital that they continue to take the time and trouble to rescue people in peril, whoever they are.

Maersk said the captain of the vessel, which sailed from Malaysia through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean, where the crew spotted the refugees, decided to take the boat-people on board because they were in distress.


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