MARUAH: Singapore could have done better as a key coastal state in Rohingya rescue effort

We refer to the recent denial of entry of the MV Nosco Victory carrying 40 people rescued off the coast of Myanmar.

MARUAH, a human rights group, would like to praise the Captain of the MV Nosco Victory Mr Nguyen Dinh Hoa for rescuing the Rohingyas at sea, saving many lives and observing the honour code among seafarers.

We would also like to make three points for Singaporeans and the Singapore authorities to consider.

First and foremost, we note the irony of Singapore reiterating the importance of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on its 30th anniversary earlier in the week. This contrasts with the decision by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) to deny entry into Singapore ports for the MV Nosco Victory, which seems inconsistent with the obligations of coastal states under international law.

For instance, the 1974 International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS Convention) and the 1979 International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, both of which Singapore have ratified, require state parties to “ensure that necessary arrangements are made… for the rescue of persons in distress at sea around its coasts” and to “ensure that assistance be provided to any person in distress at sea … regardless of the nationality or status of such a person or the circumstances in which that person is found” and to “provide for their initial medical or other needs, and deliver them to a place of safety”.

Secondly, we find the MPA’s decision deeply troubling from a humanitarian perspective, as it could deter ships from rescuing people – especially displaced people – stranded at sea. On a related note, even as the MV Nosco Victory is anchored just outside our waters, has Singapore sent any humanitarian missions onboard to render humanitarian aid?

Finally, we recognise that Singapore has limited land and so faces limitations in terms of her ability to accept displaced persons. But as a responsible member of ASEAN and the international community, Singapore can certainly afford to do more than it currently does. We urge the Government to review its policy on this matter, and offer a limited number of places to displaced persons and enable their transit to another country or be absorbed into our society.

Ms Braema Mathi, President of MARUAH says: “We question what the MPA’s decision says about Singapore’s values. Government ministers have touched on values emerging as a major strand in the Our Singapore Conversation; what then is the value being espoused by the Singapore Government, when it implicitly advocates that the Rohingya should have been left at sea? How would we want ships to treat Singaporeans stranded at sea?

Singaporeans have clearly articulated a desire for Singapore to become a more humane and compassionate society. The way that we treat distressed people fleeing genocide seems a good place to start.”

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