Earlier this month, the administrative court in Palermo lifted the blockade of our two ships. Now the next wave of politically motivated harassment is already following: this time it strikes the Sea-Watch 3.
Last June, the Sea-Watch 3 was detained by the Italian authorities after rescuing 211 people. After the ship was allowed to go to Spain for a shipyard period, both the German and Spanish authorities confirmed to us that the ship was safe and well equipped. So, after months of forced rest, the Sea-Watch 3 returned to action in February 2021. In five demanding rescue missions, the crew was able to save a total of 363 people from distress at sea and bring them to a safe harbour.
Last Sunday, our ship was detained again after a port state control in Augusta, Sicily. One of the absurd accusations is that the ship was carrying too many people. The Italian authorities are thus ignoring the decision of the administrative court in Palermo, which only a few weeks ago questioned the use of politically motivated port state controls for the purpose of blocking rescue ships and in the course of this lifted the blockade of our ships.
We are currently doing everything we can to get the Sea-Watch 3 released as soon as possible. But the last months have shown us that port state controls and subsequent arbitrary detentions are part of the new Italian strategy to prevent us from rescuing. These blockades, which affect not only us but also other civil sea rescue ships, are active attempts by the authorities to reduce the chances of survival of people trying to cross the Central Mediterranean via boat. The sad balance sheet of the last few months shows that this deadly strategy is working: in 2021 alone, at least 232 people have already drowned while trying to cross the Central Mediterranean.
We therefore hope all the more to receive a positive decision from the European Court of Justice in the near future. The Court is currently dealing with the legality of politically motivated port state controls and the subsequent blockades of civil sea rescue ships. An end to these arbitrary port state controls is an important step to protect all NGOs and rescue ships active in the Central Mediterranean against arbitrary action by the authorities. If the European states are not willing to rescue people in distress at sea, the least they can do is let us do our work in peace – solidarity with refugees cannot and must not be a crime!
It is draining our strength to defend ourselves legally, but we have another ship, the Sea-Watch 4, which will soon return to the area of operation. Numerous activists and our crew are currently working at full speed in Burriana, Spain, to get the ship ready for the next mission as soon as possible.