Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 1 December 2020

Italian move to block migrant rescue ships condemned as 'political'

The Sea-Watch 4 was the fifth rescue ship detained by Italian authorities in as many months

Migrants wait on board the Sea-Watch 4. AFP
Migrants wait on board the Sea-Watch 4. AFP

Italy impounded a German humanitarian ship that was on a mission to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean.

The German group, Sea-Watch, condemned the blockade of its vessel after it was stopped for an 11-hour inspection in the Sicilian port of Palermo by Italian authorities.

Philipp Hahn, head of the Sea-Watch 4 mission, called the Italian measures “flimsy’’ and a ”systematic” bid to slow them down.

It is the fifth rescue ship blocked by Italian authorities in as many months. Sea-Watch 4 is operated by four humanitarian groups, including Sea-Watch and Doctors Without Borders.

‘’The Sea-Watch 4 is only at sea because of the absence of state-led search and rescue capacity at the world’s deadliest sea border,’’ Doctors Without Borders said.

It accused Europe of “disregarding its legal and moral duty to save lives”.

Mr Hahn said that the main reason cited for the inspection was that saving lives did not conform to the vessel’s registration. Italian officials also said there were too many life jackets on board and that the boat’s sewage system was not adequate for the number of people rescued.

The increasing obstacles to migrant rescues in the Mediterranean have seen fewer migrant arrivals in 2020 than in 2019, according to Missing Migrants data.

Although there have also been fewer deaths in 2020 than in 2019, according to the same organisation.

The dangerous sea route from Libya towards Italy and Malta is popular with migrants trying to reach Europe.

Italy, like Greece, has seen thousands of people land on its shores and islands and often takes a hardline stance as new ships carrying rescued migrants try to dock.

The Sea-Watch ship had rescued 354 people, 98 of them unaccompanied minors. It waited for days to be assigned a safe port, until survivors were transferred to a ferry for quarantine. The Sea-Watch 4 crew also underwent a two-week quarantine off Palermo.

Another German-flagged ship, Alan Kurdi, operated by Sea-Eye, rescued 133 people off the Libyan coast in three operations on Saturday.

Updated: September 21, 2020 02:07 PM

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