Meanwhile, the Sea-Watch 3 and Ocean Viking find themselves ‘in a situation that should never occur at sea’
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL called on the Italian authorities today to drop legal proceedings against activists from refugee the Iuventa rescue ship.
Between August 2016 and August 2017, the vessel’s crew saved the lives of more than 14,000 people in the central Mediterranean.
The Italian authorities began spying on them in September 2016, before seizing the Iuventa four years ago.
The authorities said that several members of the crew had been placed under investigation, but didn’t clarify who or why.
Then, in March this year, the prosecutor’s office in the Sicilian city of Trapani brought charges of “aiding and abetting irregular entry” against 21 individuals from three NGOs: Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and Jugend Rettet, a German organisation that worked closely with the Iuventa.
If found guilty, the activists could face up to 20 years in jail.
“Rescue at sea is an obligation under international law,” Amnesty International Germany’s asylum policy expert Franziska Vilmar said yesterday.
“Instead of prosecuting crew members for assisting them with irregular entry, the rescue of refugees must always remain unpunished, as it is carried out for humanitarian reasons.
“These criminal proceedings help ensure that people fleeing across the Mediterranean are not rescued and that civilian sea rescue crews are intimidated.
“This year alone, more than 1,100 people have died in the Mediterranean and an estimated 6,100 people have been returned to detention camps by the Libyan Coastguard.”
Meanwhile, the European authorities have yet to assign a port to the over 800 refugees on board the Sea-Watch 3 and Ocean Viking, days after their rescuers asked for one.
SOS Mediterranee, the charity that operates the Ocean Viking, shared a video update from Julia, a crew member aboard the ship.
“After this weekend of non-stop search and rescue operations, we are now finding ourselves in a situation that should never occur at sea, but that we and other have sadly been in far too often,” she says.
“We are left without instructions on the disembarkation of those we rescued from distress. We are waiting to be assigned for a place of safety.
“To be clear, according to maritime law, a rescue operation is only formally over once the survivors are disembarked in a safe port.
“It’s hard to explain what it means to be left in this situation for days with 555 people onboard, or actually 553 now as a pregnant woman needed to be evacuated urgently yesterday together with her husband.
“The heat, the lack of space, the constitution of many og the survivors after the ordeal they lived through in Libya.”
The Sea-Watch 3 is currently carrying 257 survivors.
Sea-Watch chairman Johannes Bayer said: “European politicians are happily toasting 70 years of the Geneva Refugee Convention while allowing people to drown as a deterrent or to be dragged back to torture camps in Libya by their handlers.
“Civil rescue organisations that try to fill the politically intended rescue gap are harassed and their ships blocked. Anyone who cares about human rights beyond Sunday speeches must not allow this to happen, must watch, must speak out, must take action.”
Check out The Civil Fleet Podcast episode with Sascha, former head of operations on the Iuventa, about what it was like working on the ship and how Italy’s far right movement got the intelligence services to spy on their activities and how the cops seized the ship.