Italian authorities had detained the rescue ship Sea-Watch 4 after a port state control on Sept. 19, 2020, on flimsy grounds. Today, Tuesday, the Administrative Court in Palermo preliminarily suspended the detention of the Sea-Watch 4. Meanwhile, the rescue ship Sea-Watch 3, with 363 rescued people on board, continues to wait off Sicily for the allocation of a port of safety.
Among the reasons given by Italian authorities for detaining the Sea-Watch 4 in September after an 11-hour inspection was that the ship had too many life jackets on board and that the sewage system was not designed for the number of possible rescued people. In fact, German authorities repeatedly confirmed to Sea-Watch that the Sea-Watch 4 met all safety requirements of the German flag state. At the end of December, the Regional Administrative Court of Palermo had referred the case to the European Court of Justice to examine the general legality of the application of the European Directive on Port State Control to humanitarian vessels. In its ruling today, the Administrative Court granted our request to suspend the blockade pending the European Court of Justice’s decision. The Administrative Court clarified that the safety of the ships is guaranteed even in emergency situations. The judge clarified that the safety of navigation is ensured by the flag state and the ship’s captain in case of situations requiring emergency intervention, stressing that – in any case – the transport of rescued persons on board is limited to the time strictly necessary for their disembarkation in a safe place. Thus, our two ships – the Sea-Watch 4 and the Sea-Watch 3 – will be able to operate in the central Mediterranean Sea again.
“The release of the Sea-Watch 4 is gratifying, but it comes too late. The EU has made leaving to die its migration policy. In 2021, three times as many people have already drowned in the Mediterranean as the year has days. We also want to prevent the illegitimate blockade of rescue ships in the future; for this we continue to fight before the European Court of Justice,” said Johannes Bayer, Sea-Watch Chairman.
The Sea-Watch 4 will start its next mission as soon as possible after a transfer to the shipyard and completing necessary work due to the long detention.
Meanwhile, the Sea-Watch 3 continues to wait off Sicily for assignment to a port of safety. The ship, which departed on Feb. 19 on its first mission after a forced break of more than seven months, was able to rescue 363 people from distress in five different rescue operations between Feb. 26 and Feb. 28, 2021. In a sixth operation, the crew could stabilize another boat with about 90 people until the Italian Coast Guard arrived. A port of safety in Europe has so far been denied to the ship and those rescued.
Among the survivors are 47 women, some of them pregnant. One third are minors, 120 of them unaccompanied.
Hugo Grenier, Head of Mission on the Sea-Watch 3: “We have 363 people on board who had to go through hell to even land on this ship. Europe denied them safe escape routes and would have let them drown, now they are denied a port of safety. We are not asking for charity, we just want their rights to be respected and implemented.”
Europe’s isolation and blockade policy continues to be deadly: according to the IOM, in 2021 alone, more than 185 people have died trying to cross the central Mediterranean. 715 people have lost their lives or went missing since the arbitrary detention of the Sea-Watch 4. In violation of international law, more than 3,500 others have been forced back to Libya by the EU-funded so-called Libyan Coast Guard.