After a ~37-hour rescue operation, assisting the civil rescue organization Open Arms and rescuing 72 people from distress at sea, the Sea-Watch ship Aurora was detained on Monday afternoon by Italian authorities. Sea-Watch denounces the fabrication of reasons for the detention of the ship. Although the situation on board after the rescue deteriorated by the minute – one person was even found unconscious due to the extreme heat – the Italian rescue coordination center assigned Trapani as the port of safety, unreachable for Aurora and much farther than Lampedusa. This year alone, more than 2200 people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.
After first assisting in a rescue by the organization Open Arms on August 18, the crew of the Aurora rescued 72 people from distress at sea themselves. Due to the longevity of the rescue operation, the Aurora was running out of fuel. Nevertheless, Italian authorities repeatedly directed the ship to Trapani as its assigned Port of Safety (POS). According to international conventions, the nearest suitable port must be assigned for the landing of persons rescued in distress at sea. However, Lampedusa, much closer to the area of operations, was explicitly ruled out by the rescue coordination center.
Despite more than 24 hours at sea and a relentlessly burning sun increasing the temperature on board to more than 46 degrees, on Saturday 19. August, Italian authorities still insisted on Trapani as the assigned POS. Even when drinking water supplies drew to a close, requests for the assignment of a closer POS have come to nothing. All rescued persons faced the severe risk of dehydration, one person was found unconscious. Yet, even a medical evacuation was denied, showing the carelessness of Italian authorities for the health and life of all rescued persons. In particular, due to the lack of fuel and drinking water shortage, there was no other option for the ship than to head for Lampedusa, as the safety of the guests could no longer be guaranteed.
After repeatedly indicating that Trapani was factually impossible to reach, the Italian MRCC prompted the Aurora to request a port from Tunisia. Sea-Watch emphasizes the violation of international law by disembarking rescued persons in Tunisia as the country cannot be recognised as a place of safety. Tunisia is neither a safe country of origin nor a safe harbor, as thoroughly indicated by Human Rights Watch. In this way, instead of taking on their lawful responsibility, the Italian state actively attempted to divert its duties.
Due to the extreme situation on board, the Italian rescue coordination center had to give permission to enter Lampedusa port on Saturday afternoon to disembark all rescued persons.The ship, however, is now detained for 20 days based on the Italian government decree on sea rescue, and Sea-Watch will be fined between 2500-10000€.. 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.
Rebecca Berker, Head of Mission, comments: “Exhausted from their flight already, all rescued guests had to unnecessarily endure another 24 hours at sea. Italy willingly endangered all lives on the Aurora and holds itself directly accountable for health consequences on board. We simply had no other option than to sail to Lampedusa.”
Giulia Messmer, spokesperson of Sea-Watch, adds: “Europe creates a death trap at its borders. We denounce Italy’s cruel political chess game, focused on violently preventing migration and impeding civil sea rescue. We demand the immediate release of the Aurora and an end to all cooperation with authoritarian regimes”
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 2200 people have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea since the beginning of 2023 alone, the highest death toll since 2017.