Is There A Right to Be Rescued At Sea? A Skeptical View, in Questions of International Law

QIL, Zoom-in 4 (2014), pp. 17-32
Efthymios Papastavridis
Publication Year
Europe and Central Asia / Global
Thematic Area
Law & Policies / The Search Process
Human Rights / Law – International / Migration / Prevention / Rescue at sea
Open access

The recent tragic and deadly sea incidents, including the sinking of a boat with 500 people off the coast of Lampedusa on 3 October 2013 and of another boat with more 200 people on 12 May 2014, mark the significance and urgency of the problem of migration by sea. Indeed, thousands of people nowadays often undertake extremely perilous journeys, putting their lives into serious danger in order to flee their country of origin; and to do so by whatever means possible, including via overcrowded and unseaworthy vessels. Such vessels will often be at risk of sinking and indeed many do sink, with the result that thousands of lives are lost every year. Many questions arise as to the effectiveness of the legal regime governing rescue-at-sea and as to the possible solutions to the problem of maritime migration. However, taking into account the continuing loss of life at sea, it is apposite to ponder whether it is the time to recognise an ‘individual right to be rescued at sea’. The paper will start by examining whether a ‘right to be rescued’ may be found or whether it can be extrapolated from the rules of the law of the sea as well as whether the latter affords any legal avenue for the judicial redress of the people in question. Then it will turn to the human rights law context and it will discuss whether such individual right exists in that context and if not, whether the right of life may afford any redress to the persons concerned. In concluding, it will underscore that, even though no such right may exist, this does not alleviate states from their duties to protect the right to life at sea.