Up to 70 dead in the Mediterranean, others try to swim to safety – Sea-Watch 3 on the way to rescue mission, after court lifts blockade

M/Y Sea-Watch 3, one of the last and with over 50 meters the currently biggest civilian/NGO rescue ship in the central Mediterranean Sea, is seen in the Search & Rescue area off the Libyan Coast, on Decemer, 19, 2018.

On Saturday, the Sea-Watch 3 has set sails again for search and rescue after more than a month of unlawful blockade by its own flag state, the Netherlands. It is once again the only civilian rescue ship in the Central Mediterranean Sea. Last Friday alone, about 70 people fell victim to the EU’s deadly migration policy after a refugee boat that had departed from Libya capsized.

Last Tuesday a court in The Hague ruled that the flag state had unlawfully prevented the Sea-Watch 3 from leaving port since the beginning of April. Previously, the Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management had issued new regulations for ships of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The Sea-Watch 3 was the only ship to which the regulations came into immediate effect, without a transitional period which was previously promised by the Minister, and then demanded by the judge. This obvious political blockade of a civil sea rescue asset has now been lifted by the court following a legal challenge issued by Sea-Watch. The ship is now back on mission and en route to the search and rescue (SAR) zone off Libya.

On Friday, a boat carrying people fleeing Libya sank off the coast of Kerkennah, Tunisia, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). While 16 shipwrecked people were rescued by local fishermen, for around 70 every rescue came too late. If the Sea-Watch 3 had not been blocked, these people could have had more chances at being found alive and rescued.

“Europe is letting people drown as a deterrent to others, who only have the choice between torture and death or the Mediterranean. As long as there is war in Libya and refugees are stuck there, imprisoned in camps under inhuman conditions, they will flee across the sea. As long as Europe denies them safe passage and neglects its obligation to rescue at sea, we will do everything we can to save as many people as possible”, says Philipp Hahn, Head of Mission of Sea-Watch 3.

Also last Friday, a patrol ship of the Italian Navy and the Mare Jonio of Sea-Watch’s partner organization Mediterranea had brought a total of 66 rescued persons ashore in Italy.

With the subsequent temporary confiscation of the Mare Jonio, the search and rescue zone is once again left without a single rescue vessel, but with all the more refugee boats: The Sea-Watch air reconnaissance mission #Moonbird alone accompanied six cases on Friday and Saturday, some of them dramatic:

On Saturday, our aircrew witnessed yet another pull-back of about 100 people by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard in violation of international law. In the course of the interception, several people jumped into the water. Some swam to the nearby offshore supplier Vos Triton, some even to the remains of their already destroyed rubber boat, to escape the abduction. “Each of these boats starting at the moment, resembles an act of desperation but the picture of these people trying to swim to safety sticks to the head,” says Neeske Beckmann, #Moonbird’s Tactical Coordinator. “The EU is now openly coordinating the breach of international law at its external border by sending planes to guide the Libyans to the boats, while European rescue ships are being prevented from rescuing by any means.”