2001 Maritime

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August 29, 2001

Norwegian Foreign Ministry statement on Tampa

Here's the text of a Norwegian Government statement issued today

On 26 August 2001 the Norwegian vessel MS TAMPA was requested by the Australian Search and Rescue Authority to proceed to and assist a vessel in distress. An Australian aircraft guided MS TAMPA to the vessel in distress. The Australian aircraft which directed the operation used the call sign "Coastwatch 583". Both the Australian Search and Rescue Authority and the Norwegian vessel acted in accordance with their obligations under international law. The Norwegian vessel participated at an Australian request in an Australian led search and rescue operation conducted in accordance with article 98 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which is ratified by both Australia and Norway.

In the prevailing circumstances the rescue responsibilities of Australia under international law continue to exist. These responsibilities clearly include an obligation to allow the persons rescued into the Australian Territory of Christmas Island, which is the nearest harbor. Such a responsibility also follows from generally accepted international standards of humanity.

Furthermore, it is Norway’s position that the request from the Australian Search and Rescue Authority for assistance from the Norwegian vessel in an Australian led search and rescue operation carries with it an obligation to allow the persons rescued into Australian territory

As a result of the Australian refusal to grant the Norwegian vessel access to Australian harbor, and the fact that Australian authorities were unable to get humanitarian and medical assistance to the ship, the Master on 29 August declared a distress situation which could only be solved by approaching the closest shore to find shelter so that medical assistance can be secured. This decision by the Master is fully consistent with international law. Australia has a clear international obligation to receive the vessel and to render assistance under the Safety of Life at Sea Convention. Norway supports the decision by the Master.

Norway has urged and urges again Australia to comply with its obligations under international law to grant MS TAMPA access to Australian harbor without further delay and to allow the persons rescued into Australian territory

* The vessel is now subject to the full territorial jurisdiction of Australia, a fact illustrated by the presence on board the vessel of Australian military personnel. Consequently, the rescued persons are now under Australian territorial jurisdiction, and if they so desire, entitled to apply for political asylum in Australia. Australia has a duty to consider the merits of such applications.

Australia is now creating a most unwelcome obstacle for seafarers to be rescued when they are in distress or become shipwrecked. The tradition of the seas and the obligation of every seafarer is to assist anybody who is in need of help, irrespective of his nationality and the purpose of his voyage. Who will assist in the future, if coastal states no longer honour their customary duty to accept that those who are shipwrecked may go ashore.

The freighter Tampa is not seaworthy for further voyage with more than 400 persons on board. It is not a passenger vessel, it is not equipped to carry passengers, and it is not allowed to do that according to national and international regulations. Both Australia and Norway are parties to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea – SOLAS. According to these agreed international rules Tampa is not allowed to continue a voyage with the shipwrecked persons on board. Australia is now requesting the vessel to breach rules which Australia has accepted as an international commitment. There is no such emergency now as it was when Tampa came from the rescue operation to the nearest port, and there is no justification for the vessel to move somewhere else with passengers beyond what is allowed.

Australian Senate rejects legislation to forcibly move Tampa
The Australian Senate has rejected emergency Government legislation that would have given legal cover for any attempt to forcibly remove the Norwegian ship, Tampa, from Australian waters, reports the Australian Broadcasting Commission

The Government attempted to ram through retroactive legislation that would have given it broad powers to forcibly remove any ship from Australia's waters while preventing any legal challenge to such a move.

While the legislation has been rejected, the Government is still likely to act to force the freighter out of Australian waters, says the network