“We have worked hard to fix what we can, despite some of the stated irregularities being too minor to justify detention,” said Barbara Deck, MSF project coordinator on board the Sea-Watch 4. “The rest [of the irregularities] are quite frankly impossible to meet. For example, the ship’s flag-state, Germany, simply does not provide the type of certification required by the Italian authorities, which makes this irregularity impossible to rectify. For this reason, we fear that legitimate procedures and maritime law are being weaponized by the Italian authorities to stop search and rescue activities.”
The Sea-Watch 4 is the fifth NGO search and rescue vessel to be impounded by the Italian Authorities in a deadly pattern seemingly designed to prevent NGOs from carrying out lifesaving rescue activities that are in line with international and Italian law. On October 10, the NGO ship, Alan Kurdi, was detained for the second time in six months. On October 22, the Banksy-funded rescue vessel, Louise Michel, announced that it was also unable to leave port as its registration was being challenged.
European Union (EU) governments have taken away search and rescue capacity from the world’s deadliest sea border. They do this while simultaneously pledging a more humane approach to migration in the recent migration pact. If EU states are unwilling to fulfill their responsibilities to protect people seeking safety, the very least they can do is let NGO search and rescue vessels fill that gap.
At the same time, the EU continues to fund and train the Libyan Coast Guard despite its own recognition that Libya is not a safe place of return. On October 8, two ships belonging to the Libyan Coast Guard returned to Libya after undergoing substantial repairs paid for by Italy and the EU. These ships will be used to capture people at sea and return them to the very place they are trying to flee.
So far in 2020, at least 506 people have died in the central Mediterranean, and nearly 9,000 have been forcibly returned to Libya.