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VALETTA: Following the rescue of 220 Syrian migrants by the containership Eleonora Maersk south-east of Malta, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has reminded EU politicians that merchant ships are legally required by an U.N. convention to save people's lives at sea.

The ICS was reacting to a recent announcement by Britain that it will not support future search and rescue operations to prevent migrants and refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, arguing that to do so just encourages more people try and make dangerous sea crossings in the hope of being rescued.

piracyAccording to reports, the Syrians involved in the latest rescue refused to be landed in Malta and were eventually transported to Italy where the country has helped save approximately 150,000 people in the past 12 months.

Italy is now discontinuing its international search and rescue program saying the effort is unsustainable as the EU introduces a border patrol initiative that will be restricted to the country's territorial waters.

However the ICS notes that while ship captains will continue their legal and humanitarian obligation to save lives at sea, the U.N. convention requires the EU Member States, not the merchant vessel, to take responsibility for those rescued.

Meanwhile the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) reports there's been a drop in the number of seafarers merchant ships definitely do not want to pick up, as pirate attacks fall for the third year running.

The latest ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) report says there's been a total of 178 incidents this year, down from 352 for the same period in 2011. In the first nine months of 2014, pirates killed three crewmembers, kidnapped five from their vessels and took 369 hostages. A total of 17 vessels were hijacked, 124 were boarded and 10 were fired upon. There were 27 further reports of attempted attacks.

"It's encouraging to see the huge decrease in maritime piracy and armed robbery over the last few years, thanks mainly to international navies deterring pirates off East Africa, and improved onboard security," said IMB Director, Pottengal Mukundan. "However, there has been a worrying new rise in attacks against small coastal tankers in Southeast Asia. We advise small tankers in particular to remain vigilant in these waters."

The IMB says thieves armed with knives and guns board the tankers at sea and hold the crew hostage for a short time while they unload all or part of the cargo. Of the six vessels hijacked worldwide in the third quarter of 2014, five were in Southeast Asia says the Bureau.

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