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IED at sea

Written by Jo Chuter 
June 3rd 2016
Written by Jo Chuter
Following the death of a Turkish coast guard sailor in May as a result of an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in a life raft, we ask how this affects the merchant marine’s responsibilities under SOLAS.


Media reports of the event describe a Turkish fisherman sighting a floating life raft with two bodies in and informing the coast guard. The explosion happened when the coast guard investigated the incident and tried to tow the life raft. With the coast guard sailor dead and the fisherman injured it remains unclear if the coast guard was the intended target of the attack.


Given that the life raft was found drifting it is by no means certain that it would have solely been the coast guard affected. If this turns out not to be the isolated event we hope it is, what does this mean for merchant mariners?


Under the SOLAS convention seafarers have an obligation to help others in danger and distress on the high seas. Whilst they would be under no obligation to help two corpses, it is not inconceivable that if a life raft with corpses can be rigged to explode, so too can one with live inhabitants.


Previous scaremongering tales have warned of the possibility of extremists smuggling themselves aboard amongst a group of scared migrants. Do we now have to seriously consider the possibility that not only they, but their boat too, could be a risk?


There is a clear conflict at play here. Masters have an obligation to proceed to the assistance of those in distress, but also to protect the safety of their crew first and foremost. With crew often unable to communicate with migrants due to language barriers what can seafarers do to mitigate this risk? Does this undermine SOLAS entirely?




CSO Alliance has reached out to shipping organisations to discuss the article, but so far no one is willing to comment on what will hopefully prove to be an isolated incident.


There have been many academic papers on the possibility of maritime terrorism in recent years, but few experts believe terrorists currently possess the capability or training to operate in this fashion. While the hijacking threat has yet to be confirmed in the Mediterranean, the possibility of an IED left to lure navies or merchant ships is one which we cannot ignore. How shipping reacts to this is, of course, another question. CSO Alliance hopes that it will not affect ongoing efforts to rescue refugees and migrants at sea, but will also be discussing this with our military contacts in the region in the hopes that, should the incident be repeated, a formal reporting structure is put in place.