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NATO Shipping Centre contributes trade and travel by sea to be as safe and secure as possible. To mitigate any threat, the Centre issues advice and guidance focused on the needs of the global maritime system.

About five routes have been identified in the Mediterranean and East Atlantic areas as channels of illegal crossings: the Central Mediterranean route (CMR), the Western Mediterranean route (WMR), the Eastern Mediterranean route (EMR), the West African route and the Western Balkan route.

The WMR flows directly to Spain from the North West coast of Africa. The West African route is used by irregular West African migrants to transit to Canary Islands (Spain). In the CMR, the flow of irregular migration to Europe points to Italy. Finally, the EMR is used by unauthorized migrants to travel into the EU through Turkey and Greece.


In accordance with Frontex [1] "The number of illegal border crossings at Europe's external borders in the first four months of 2021 reached 36100, about a third higher than year ago when irregular migration dropped due to travel limitations linked to the outbreak of COVID, according to preliminary calculations".

This estimation, in addition to the improvement of the weather during the summer period, make immigrant crafts sights and SOLAS[2] cases arise in certain areas of the Mediterranean following the usual patterns monitored during the past years.

The Merchant community must be aware about the high possibility of migrant crafts sightings during their transits; especially through the Channel of Sicily and the Alboran Sea in vicinity of Strait of Gibraltar approaches.

In case a master assists a SOLAS situation at sea, he must know that in accordance with SOLAS Convention Chapter V, Regulation 33 and SAR Convention Chapter 3.1.9. Contracting States are firmly obligate to support them to disembark the assisted personnel.

[1] The European Border and Coast Guard Agency, also known as FRONTEX, is an agency of the European Union tasked with border control of the European Schengen Area, in coordination with the border and coast guards of Schengen Area member states.
[2] In accordance with the international Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS)  "master of a ship at sea which is in a position to be able to provide assistance, on receiving information from any source that persons are in distress at sea, is bound to proceed with all speed to their assistance, if possible informing them or the search and rescue service that the ship is doing so…"

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NATO Shipping Centre
Northwood HQ, Atlantic Building
Sandy Lane, Northwood HA6 3HP
United Kingdom

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