Anyone who obstructs rescue services is liable to prosecution, nobody would intentionally block an ambulance – but that is exactly what is happening: rescue ships are being blocked, with deadly consequences. According to UNHCR, another boat accident occurred yesterday, 114 people are missing. It is already the third since rescue ships have been blocked in Malta, on Sunday at least 63 people drowned, Friday there were over 100 including 3 babies. The weeks before, several hundred people had already drowned. According to the IOM, this June is with 629 the deadliest in 5 years, although only half as many people have arrived in Italy. Mortality in June is at record levels and is directly related to the prevention of sea rescue.
Nobody would think of stopping the volunteer fire brigade from extinguishing a fire just because it is voluntary. But that is precisely the reasoning that is currently preventing civil rescue at sea in the Mediterranean. Rules for voluntary rescuers were only recently decided at the EU summit. “Anyone who deliberately obstructs rescue workers should be tried. Yesterday’s 100 dead are the personal responsibility of those who block rescue ships and thus prevent rescue at sea on the Mediterranean,” says Pia Klemp, captain of Sea-Watch 3, who is being held back from sailing from Malta. “The fact that our rescue ships are deliberately blocked during the deadliest weeks of the year, that not dying but sea rescue is actively prevented, is not only shameful, it is criminal.”
Sea-Watch calls for the immediate end of port blockades in Italy and Malta and for an end to the criminalisation of sea rescue and the failure of European states to provide assistance. The blockade of rescue ships in Malta is not the only scandal of recent days. Friday’s boat disaster might have been avoidable if the rescue ship Open Arms, which was in a similar sea area, had been requested. “This is about obstruction of rescue forces and failure to provide assistance with fatal consequences,” says Sea-Watch Board Member Johannes Bayer. “If rescue ships are officially instructed not to help a boat in distress, as happened again on Friday and people then die, there must also be legal consequences. Our legal system makes a mockery of itself when it is not able to hold these perpetrators to account, but instead rescue workers are on trial for pettiness.”
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