HRAS Warns of Thousands Abandoned at Sea


Published May 12, 2015 6:27 AM by The Maritime Executive

Human Rights at Sea (HRAS) has been informed that trafficked people have been abandoned at sea in the northern part of the Malacca Straits and around the north west of Aceh Province. Most are thought to be persecuted Rohingya people.

It is assessed at this early stage of reporting that the numbers of abandoned people could be in the thousands on board a number of vessels, possibly operating together as flotilla, says HRAS founder David Hammond. Details of the precise type of vessels are unknown at this time, though they are thought to be flying either Indonesian or Thai flags.

HRAS urges the global shipping community and owners to consider acting on this information – and for vessels in the vicinity and transiting the straits to be aware of the issue and to be vigilant.

At this time, it is not believed that any formal search and rescue effort has been established, says Hammond, though the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and United Nations Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Bangkok have both made statements to the effect that a regional search and rescue effort is required and should be supported.

The Buddhist-majority in Myanmar views its population of Muslim Rohingya, estimated at more than 1.3 million, as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. It is widely reported that the UN considers them to be among the world's most persecuted minorities.

Hammond said: “The information coming into Human Rights at Sea is that this is the tip of the iceberg. The smugglers are now retaining the migrants in ships and staying out at sea to avoid detection. Issues being highlighted are the conditions on board if the migrants cannot be off-loaded and what the traffickers will do with those migrants to avoid detention and arrest.”

The area to be searched in the Malacca Strait and around Aceh Province is significant in size and would require a considerable and comprehensive regional search and rescue effort. This effort could be enhanced by vessels passing through the Straits and in the vicinity being involved from a search and rescue perspective, says Hammond. 

“If the reports HRAS are receiving are correct, the search criteria could be narrowed in that the vessels apparently being used are of a significant size with accounts of up to a 1,000 people on each vessel.

“If there is not an immediate and concerted search and rescue operation due to regional political concerns that these individuals being trafficked may then wish to seek refugee status, we will undoubtedly have mass casualties on our hands and the slow death of innocent people at sea. This is quite simply unacceptable if the issue of abandoned people at sea is known about and not acted upon.”

Human Rights at Sea first raised this issue in October 2014 with a dedicated case study.