HC Deb 28 February 1980 vol 979 cc1558-9
17. Mr. Bidwell

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will state the nationalities of all members of the Greek-owned motor vessel "Athina B", which ran aground at Brighton on 21 January; what steps were taken to return seamen to their countries of origin; and what other action was taken concerning them.

Mr. Raison

The crew comprised 13 Greeks, I German, I Egyptian, I Portuguese and 5 Indians. Also on board were the British wife and children of the captain and 1 French passenger. Tickets were provided by the owners of the ship to enable the crew to leave the United Kingdom. As to the other action taken, I refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave to a question by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) on 19 February.

Mr. Bidwell

Does the Minister accept that that "other action" meant that three Indian nationals in the crew were put cells for two or three days before removal to Harmondsworth, and ultimately to India, via Athens? Is not that disgraceful in view of the fact that these seamen had been through a traumatic experience and had been tossed about in the Channel before beaching at Brighton? Will the Minister give an assurance that in future there will be no such discrimination against shipwrecked mariners who reach the shores of Britain, which has a rich history in succouring such people?

Mr. Raison

The three Indians were not regarded as professional seamen. The rest of the crew, including two other Indians, were considered to be regular seamen. There is a significant risk of desertion in United Kingdom ports by persons who are not regular seamen. They are scrutinised closely to prevent that. Those considered likely to desert are refused entry. They are usually kept on board until their vessel departs, under arrangements made by the ship's master. If that is not possible, as in this case, they are kept in secure accommodation on shore. However, in the light of this incident, I am considering whether instructions to immigration officers in respect of nonprofessional seamen require amendment.