As of today, the Sea-Watch 3 is registered under the German flag. Consequently, the ship no longer sails under the Dutch flag, and awaits further permission to actually leave port in Sicily. Sea-Watch is compelled to make this switch due to a lack of confidence that the Netherlands, as a flag state, is doing enough to keep the Sea-Watch 3 operational.
Under international law, the Netherlands as a flag state is responsible for ensuring that ships can disembark at a safe port as soon as possible after a rescue operation. Whenever the Sea-Watch 3 appealed to its flag state however, the Netherlands repeatedly failed to take up its responsibilities, instead giving way to politicised attempts to prevent people rescued by Sea-Watch 3 from arriving to Europe. Both in migration policy matters, and in its direct interaction with Sea-Watch, the Dutch cabinet has consistently shown aggression towards people on the move, and those who stand in solidarity with them.
Sea-Watch is disappointed in the course of events, yet they do not come as a surprise.
Even while the Sea-Watch 3 is currently being prevented from sailing by the Italian authorities without apparent legal basis, the Dutch government is doing nothing to secure the ship’s release. We await a court verdict in Italy in the next few weeks about the ship’s current unlawful seizure.
In 2019, Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management Van Nieuwenhuizen introduced a new policy on ship safety, targeted at Sea-Watch. Information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act shows that the Dutch government had been looking for ways to restrict the disembarkation of rescued people by NGO vessels. It is clear from the released documents that the state is not concerned with security on board Dutch ships, but with migration control.
Two different Dutch courts stated that the Minister had violated the rules of good governance and that the urgency to implement the policy did not outweigh the possible consequences; people drowning in the Mediterranean Sea.
Though the Netherlands still claims to adhere to an ‘open arms’ policy, introduced in 1989 to make it easier for NGO ships to sail under the Dutch flag, and despite a recent appeal from Minister Van Nieuwenhuizen to shipowners to register their ships in the Dutch register, to Sea-Watch it is clear that the policy climate is impossible to work in.
Suzanne Kroger of the Dutch Green-Left party has expressed her disappointment in a comment: “The Minister has created a situation in which the human rights organisation Sea-Watch had no choice but to leave the Netherlands. That is a loss for the Netherlands and is opposed to the arms policy for which the Minister spoke out on Tuesday.”
In light of these serious failures by the Dutch state, it is impossible for the Sea-Watch 3 to continue sailing under its flag. We look forward to a fruitful relationship in which the German government fully assumes its responsibilities as our new flag state, without political interference. We hope to be able to sail again soon to monitor the consequences of Europe’s deadly migration policy in the Mediterranean Sea and, where necessary, rescue people in distress.