After rescuing 39 people from distress at sea last Monday, the Sea-Watch rescue ship Aurora was detained by Italian authorities in Lampedusa yesterday evening, June 14, 2023. Also yesterday, southwest of Greece, at least 79 people on the move drowned in a shipwreck in the Mediterranean, with hundreds missing.
On Monday, June 12, the Aurora crew brought 39 people safely on board at around 23:00. The unseaworthy metal boat was overcrowded, depleting fuel, food, and water supplies. Before, the Rise Above of the organization Mission Lifeline had discovered the overcrowded boat, issued life jackets, and stabilized the situation. As the condition of the rescued people did not allow them to proceed to the assigned, distant port of Trapani, the people were brought ashore in Lampedusa.
Upon request, Italian authorities assigned the Aurora to the Sicilian port of Trapani. Because those rescued suffered from seasickness and dehydration and said they had already spent more than 24 hours at sea, the maritime rescue control center was repeatedly asked to assign the Aurora the nearest safe port, as set out in international agreements. On board were also unaccompanied minors and a pregnant woman. After repeated refusals, the Maritime Rescue Control Center left the crew of the Aurora with no other option but to sail to the nearest Lampedusa so as not to unnecessarily endanger the people’s health. The trip to faraway Trapani would have taken at least 32 hours due to weather conditions.
After disembarking the 39 rescued people in Lampedusa, the Aurora was detained for 20 days based on the Italian government decree on sea rescue, as well as fined 3,333€. The decree directly targets civil sea rescue organizations and explicitly names ships that systematically or not only occasionally conduct search and rescue operations as the scope of application. The sanctions range up to impoundment and confiscation of the vessel.
“When people are abandoned at sea and exposed to unnecessary suffering, Europe’s racist border regime rears its ugly head. We rescue where Europe lets people drown, and we do not expose those on board to unnecessary danger. People have the right to go ashore in the nearest safe place, as set out in international conventions”, says Chiara Milanese, Aurora’s Head of Mission.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 1160 people have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea since the beginning of 2023 alone, the highest death toll since 2017. Only yesterday, the bodies of 79 people were recovered after a shipwreck off the Greek town of Pylos, hundreds are missing. Pictures of the overcrowded fishing boat published in Greek media confirmed suspicions that 500 to 700 passengers were involved.
“Bodies of people seeking protection are washing up on beaches while civil rescue organizations are blocked and criminalized. Not only is the EU not fulfilling its obligations, it is punishing those who still care about human rights and the duty to rescue,” said Oliver Kulikowski, spokesperson for Sea-Watch.