While the Aquarius, operated by SOS Mediterranee and MSF, was able to leave the port of Valletta yesterday after a successful disembarkation of rescued people, the rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 has been prevented from sailing for 51 days, despite the fact that all conditions of the flag state are fulfilled and the necessary registrations are available. Sea-Watch calls on the Maltese government to put an immediate end to the politically motivated blockade of rescue vessels and not to continue endangering human lives.
Though it is positive that at least one rescue NGO is allowed to leave the Maltese port of Valletta, Sea-Watch remains concerned about the systematic crackdown on the civil rescue fleet as a whole. Even if all rescue NGOs were operational, a scenario that currently seems unlikely, search and rescue capacity would remain at an alarming low due to the withdrawal of European naval missions and Italian refusal of responsibility in maritime rescue coordination in the area. The Sea-Watch 3 has been detained in port since 2 July 2018, although Dutch inspectors requested by Malta in July officially confirmed that the Sea-Watch 3 meets all the conditions of the Dutch flag state and that the necessary registrations are available. To date, the Maltese authorities have not informed Sea-Watch of the requirements that must be met before they can leave port. Pia Klemp, captain of Sea-Watch 3: “The Maltese government is inventing nebulous conditions that are not covered by any international law or regulation from the flag state that has already given the green light. While the civil rescue at sea is confronted with absurd accusations, the Maltese Government, with the backing of the European Union, is not concerned about law and order. This is a political campaign at the expense of people in distress.”
Johannes Bayer, board member of Sea-Watch: “European politicians pat each other on the back for welcoming the rescued people on the Aquarius and Maltese Prime Minister Muscat speaks of a concrete example of European leadership and solidarity, but this is cynical and unworthy of being labelled a success when every refugee is haggled over and at the same time rescue ships ready for action are prevented from saving people from drowning. The fact that five ships passed the boat in distress before the Aquarius was able to rescue the people shows where the irresponsible policy of the European Union is leading”.
At least 261 people have already lost their lives in the Mediterranean during the blockade of civilian rescue ships, and the number of unreported cases is likely to be significantly higher. For example, in July the Spanish rescue organization Proactiva Open Arms recovered the bodies of a woman and child and a survivor who were apparently left behind in a destroyed boat by the so-called Libyan coast guard because they did not want to be returned to Libya. Johannes Bayer: “The blockade of civil rescue vessels does not only mean more deaths in the Mediterranean. It also serves to get rid of witnesses of human rights violations committed by the so-called Libyan coastguard, which is largely financed and trained by the EU. The fact that our reconnaissance aircraft Moonbird is also being grounded confirms our assumption.” However, human rights violations are not limited to the so-called Libyan coastguard. On 30 July 2018, the Italian ship Asso Ventotto brought rescued persons back to Libya from international waters in violation of the Geneva Convention on Refugees and the European Convention on Human Rights.