More than 900 hundred migrants were plunged into the sea Sunday when the boat carrying them from Mali to Sicily capsized in the Mediterranean. A nearby merchant ship was able to rescue 28 of the migrants, and while it was legally bound to do so, questions have arisen over whether such rescue missions are covered by the ship’s insurance policy.
The fishing boat carrying the migrants sank Sunday after it collided with the Portuguese ship, the King Jacob, that had come to its aid. According to Italian prosecutors, the boat captain “accidentally caused the small fishing boat to collide with the bigger merchant ship.”
Combined with the severe overcrowding on the boat, the wreck was severe enough to leave more than 850 people dead. Only 24 bodies have so far been recovered.
The disaster is one of the worst in recent memory, though such occurrences are by no means rare. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) estimates that merchant ships rescued more than 40,000 people from the Mediterranean along in 2014, and expects that number to increase significantly this year.
According to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, mercantile vessels are legally obligated to rescue those in need. However, many such rescues go uncompensated and insurance industry professionals are now casting doubt on whether certain policies on the ship extend coverage to the rescue of migrants and others in distress.
While a spokesman from Allianz told the BBC that all vessels are covered under the 1982 convention and that shipping companies would receive insurance payouts in the event of physical damage to ships during rescue, other industry leaders are casting doubt on whether ships are insured to carry migrants.
It appears that variations within individual insurance agreements on liability and marine policies will determine whether ships are covered for the people they actually rescue.
Similar gray areas are found in where the liability would fall if migrants should die or be injured while being rescued by a ship’s crew.
There is room for greater regulation in this area, however. According to the UN, the agreement “provides a general safeguard provision to accommodate later development of international law relating to the responsibility and liability for the assessments of and compensation for damage and the settlement of the related disputes, as well as, development of the criteria and procedures for payment of adequate compensation, such as compulsory insurance or compensation funds.”
Authorities are still working to determine the exact series of events relating to the ship crash by interviewing survivors, who are being guarded in a house inside the Mineo migrant center.