Sea-Watch 3 still blocked in Catania despite UN statement

Photo: Felix Weiss

Rescue vessel Sea-Watch 3 blocked in Catania port by Italian authorities even after the United Nations have said that criminalisation is leading to record death rates. The Italian coast Guard has cited “technical irregularities” as the reason, which is being deemed by the NGO as a “political move”. Meanwhile, a letter signed by 66 NGOs was sent to all European leaders appealing for Libyan migrants saved from the sea not to be sent back to Libya.

In a statement, Sea-Watch have called Italian efforts to “find a reason to block the ship” a “clear political move” with the irregularities “invented only to prevent Sea-Watch 3 from sailing”.

On their side, the Italian Coast Guard released a statement reporting that conduction “technical verification” procedures on the vessel found irregularities in terms of Sea-Watch 3’s compliance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Sea-Watch have said meanwhile that they have not received any formal notification of the irregularities, adding that it is “certain that these conclusions are unfounded and that it meets all technical requirements.

An average of six deaths every day in the Mediterranean – UNHCR

“While the United Nations stress the importance of civil sea rescue missions, Italy, under the protection of other European governments,” said Sea-Watch chairman Johannes Bayer, “turns the Mediterranean into a deadly human rights-free zone by hindering the last current active rescue vessel from its urgently needed rescue missions.”

This is far from the first time this has happened, according to the statement that mentioned the Italian government previously also blocking other organisations like “Jugend Rettet, Proactiva Open Arms, Doctors Without Borders and SOS Mediterranee”. It was also mentioned that there was another “political blockade” by “dutch inspectors” who delayed the ship for two days to investigate irregularities which were never found.

Bayer said that despite all political moves to block the rescue operations “we will never accept that the Mediterranean becomes a place where human rights violations go unnoticed, and where the culpability of our European government in the rising number of deaths escaped accountability.” The statement was concluded with the organisation’s full confidence in any technical and legal compliance for their vessel’s work.

Letter sent by 66 NGOs, including 8 Maltese

Meanwhile, earlier today a letter was sent by 66 NGOs, including either Maltese organisations, explaining that over 15,000 people were returned to Libya in 2018. The letter cited international law stating that people saved at sea need to be taken to the closest safe port for treatment, as well as being offered protection and being respected.

It was said that Libya is split and these migrants end up being held in inhumane conditions breaching all fundamental rights. These people will be risking being tortured and abused, so much so that the UNHCR also appealed for them not to be sent back.

“Support rescue missions”

European Leaders were asked to show solidarity to the vessels who work every day to find and rescue those in need at sea. The NGOs insisted that countries need to let the ships do their work, and subsequently give safe port to the rescued people. They added that a number of Member States are hindering NGOs in the field, even coming up with false allegations to block ships from leaving their ports to carry on their work.