Last night at 8:30 PM local time, the remaining 47 of 65 rescued people onboard the Sea-Watch 3 were disembarked safely, and in close cooperation with the Italian Coast Guard, on the island of Lampedusa. This fourth disembarkation of rescued people by a civil rescue ship in Italy this year proves once more that the talk of closed ports is just that: talk.
“The ports are not closed, they cannot be closed. We have affirmed a legal duty, a moral duty, an act of solidarity: rescue at sea must be protected and defended,” said Giorgia Linardi, Sea-Watch’s representative to Italy, as the survivors were greeted in the port by locals holding banners marked “Welcome to Lampedusa” and “Whoever saves one life, saves the entire world”.
The 47 people were disembarked in close and friendly cooperation with the Italian Coast Guard and Guardia di Finanza, as the Sea-Watch 3 was deemed too big to enter the port of Lampedusa. However, Sea-Watch 3 has officially been taken into “probationary confiscation” and was asked to proceed to the port of Licata.
“First of all, we are happy for the survivors, who have endured enough and are hopefully finally able to find some rest and calm from now on,” says Philipp Hahn, Head of Mission of Sea-Watch 3. “The subsequent probationary confiscation of our ship was as foreseeable as it is outrageous. We have not broken any law, on the contrary, we have once more upheld the law of the sea and the Geneva Refugee Convention, so we are confident this will lead to no further proceedings. But this is a rescue ship, not a cruiser. Every day it is held in port, people may die.”
A total number of 65 people had been rescued by Sea-Watch 3 crew from a rubber dinghy in distress about 30 nautical miles off the Libyan coast on May 15. The responsible authorities had once again disregarded their duty under maritime law to assign a port of safety and left the ship stranded at sea. In what Sea-Watch regards as a political move in the face of EU elections, on Friday the Italian authorities conducted a highly unusual partial disembarkation from international waters: 18 people, comprising families with young children, were taken off the Sea-Watch 3 by a Coast Guard vessel. As a result, the psychological state of the rescued guests left behind had deteriorated to the extent that captain and crew could no longer guarantee their health and safety; they declared a state of emergency and entered Italian territorial waters.
Already on Saturday, the United Nations urged the Italian government in a letter to withdraw a Directive by the Minister of Interior Salvini, stating that „search and rescue operations aiming at saving lives at sea cannot represent a violation of national legislation on border control or irregular migration, as the right to life should prevail over national and European legislation, bilateral agreements and memoranda of understanding and any other political or administrative decision aimed at ‚fighting irregular migration‘“ and that the Salvini decree is not only yet another political attempt to criminalize search and rescue operations carried out by civil society organizations in the Mediterranean but also violates human rights.