The International Maritime Organization (IMO) Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention Chapter V, in Regulation 33, includes an obligation for the master of a ship at sea to provide assistance to those in distress at sea provided they are in a position to do so.
Nationality and Borders Bill
The Nationality and Borders Bill was published in July 2021. It has three main objective one of which is to deter illegal entry into the United Kingdom, thereby breaking the business model of people smuggling networks and protecting the lives of those they endanger.
The Bill also seeks to broaden criminal sanctions for offences related to illegal entry and facilitation of unlawful immigration and increase the associated maximum penalties. It would also give border and immigration staff additional powers to stop and redirect vessels out of UK territorial seas, subject to the UK’s international legal responsibilities.
Amendments to section 25 of the Immigration Act 1971 proposed in the Bill raised concerns that recreational boaters who assist migrants in distress in accordance with the humanitarian spirit of the SOLAS Convention and land them in the UK risked criminal liability.
The RYA wants to achieve
The RYA has been monitoring the progress of this Bill and has been engaging with the Home Office to seek assurances that the resulting changes to section 25 of the Immigration Act 1971 will not criminalise boaters fulfilling their obligation to provide assistance to those in distress at sea.
Recreational boaters must be able to rescue those in distress without fear of landing on the wrong side of the law.
The RYA has successfully
As reported on 25 November 2021 the Home Office has confirmed to the RYA that the amendments the Government is making to section 25 of the Immigration Act 1971 are only intended to apply to those who unlawfully assist immigration and help asylum seekers to enter the UK.
An amendment to the Bill will mean that recreational boaters who provide voluntarily assistance to migrants in distress in accordance with the humanitarian spirit of the SOLAS Convention and land them in the UK will not risk criminal liability.
The RYA position
A recreational boat is unlikely to be able to provide meaningful assistance to a boat carrying a significant number of migrants. However, recreational boaters must be able to fulfil their obligation to provide assistance to those in distress at sea, provided they are in a position to do so, without risking criminal liability.
Advice on what to do if you come across migrants at sea can be found under Cruising the World.