Following a Port State Control carried out by the Italian authorities on Saturday, the “Sea-Watch 4 powered by United4Rescue” is under an administrative blockade. Sea-Watch, United4Rescue and Doctors Without Borders strongly condemn the blockade of yet another civil rescue vessel and demand an immediate end of the criminalization of civil sea rescue operations.
“The flimsy justifications show once again that this was not an inspection serving the purpose of ship safety, but a systematic move to prevent civil sea rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean. Even though the responsible authorities have asked us to assist in rescue operations, they are now blocking yet another rescue vessel. This contradictory logic shows once again that the Italian authorities have no scruples to let people drown in the Mediterranean Sea and the signal is clearer than ever: Rescue operations at sea will be blocked to make sure that no one will reach the European coasts alive”, says Philipp Hahn, Head of Mission on the Sea-Watch 4.
During the port state control, Italian inspectors spent 11 hours rigorously searching for reasons to detain the Sea-Watch 4. The main complaint is that saving lives does not comply with the registration of the vessel. The Sea-Watch 4 had too many life jackets on board and the sewage system was not suitable for the number of people rescued. The fact that sea rescue is not a choice but a duty for all ships is being ignored. The ship meets all safety requirements of the German flag state, as confirmed by the German authorities Sea-Watch only in July. With the Sea-Watch 4, for the fifth time, a civilian rescue vessel is prevented from returning to operations. These inspections are politically motivated and their sole purpose is to stop rescue operations in the central Mediterranean.
After its first rescue operations, the Sea-Watch 4 waited for days with 353 people on board for the assignment of a Port of Safety. On 2 September, the survivors were transferred to the quarantine ferry GNV Allegra. The crew of Sea-Watch 4 then underwent a two-week quarantine off the port of Palermo.
“The violent reality people have escaped, and the dangers of the journey they are forced to take in order to seek safety, was evidenced by the wounds we treated”, says Barbara Deck, MSF medical project coordinator on board. “Yet, from the boy now deaf as result of a punch to the head by armed men, to the father who carries the scars of melted plastic branded on his skin, the resilience we witnessed was humbling. As we treat our patients on board, it is devastating to know that European governments are doing everything they can to prevent us from providing this lifesaving care.”
After different port state controls already led to the arbitrary blockades of the Sea-Watch 3 and other civil rescue vessels, Sea-Watch’s reconnaissance aircraft Moonbird has also been grounded by the Italian authorities. The aim of this blockade is to prevent a key witness at the world’s deadliest sea border from documenting serious human rights violations. The Italian authorities are trying to close the civilian eye on the Mediterranean Sea, so nobody can witness what is happening at our borders.
With the blockade of the Sea-Watch 4, the criminalization of sea rescue operations reaches another peak: This event shows once again that European states are prepared to do everything in their power to prevent the rescue of human lives. People dying in the central Mediterranean are the result of European policies of closed borders and the arbitrary blockade of civilian actors.
The Sea-Watch 4 is not only a symbol against Fortress Europe but stands for a civil society that no longer watches silently as this inhuman and racist policy is carried out in its name. “With the criminalization of the Sea-Watch4, the Italian government also criminalizes the over 600 partners that stand behind our alliance. Churches, schools, companies and voluntary initiatives: We are standing strongly together in support of Sea-Watch 4”, states Sandra Bils, founding member of United4Rescue who purchased the ship at the beginning of 2020.