After its first operation and the rescue of 85 people, the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency banned the ship from sailing. The Aurora, certified as a lifeboat in England, belongs to the British non-profit organization Search and Rescue Relief (SARR), which has partnered with Sea-Watch to save lives in the Mediterranean.
On May 29 of this year, the crew of the Aurora rescued 85 people from distress at sea and brought them safely ashore in Lampedusa, Italy, a day later. The following May 31, the U.K.’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) banned the vessel from leaving the port.
The Aurora was built as a lifeboat and was part of the fleet of the U.K.’s Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), which reports to the Department for Transport, until 2019. The Aurora was specially adapted for use in the Mediterranean and classified as a lifeboat by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) in its flag state, the United Kingdom.
As its main reason for detaining the rescue vessel, the MCA falsely claims that the scope of the vessel’s certification is limited to the U.K. However, the Rescue Boat Code, under which the ship was certified, does not restrict the use of boats abroad.
The MCA also insists on a formal agreement between Search and Rescue Relief (SARR)and the Italian Coast Guard as the coordinating authority. SARR and Sea-Watch are open to working together to save lives as effectively as possible and would welcome a return to more active participation by Italian authorities in coordinating SAR activities. However, there is no legal requirement for such a formal agreement.
With Sea-Watch, SARR will therefore explore all judicial means and take legal action against the unlawful detention of the ship.
“People have drowned while our ship – a lifesaving vessel previously operated for years as a rescue boat on behalf of the UK department of transport – is blocked in port. This politically motivated paralysis enforced upon civil rescue operations contributes to a mounting death toll. More will die as a result of this government’s failure to rescue those seeking refuge,” says Hannah Wallace-Bowman, Search & Rescue Coordinator at Sea-Watch.
“I’m very frustrated and concerned that Aurora is being blocked from continuing to carry out life saving work by the authorities of the country it served for so many years. Aurora SAR was designed and built for a single purpose, to help people in distress. The MCA are choosing to prohibit this, using a geographical restriction that simply does not exist. Aurora had been accepted by the MCA until the point it carried out the first rescue”, says Dickon Mitchell, Trustee of Search and Rescue Relief.