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Over 500 refugees rescued in the absence of the authorities still wait for Europe to allow them to come ashore

The Aita Mari and Sea-Watch 3 rescuers call Malta, Italy and the European Commission to comply with their own laws

OVER 500 refugees saved from drowning in the central Mediterranean by activist rescuers in the absence of the European authorities are still waiting for Europe to do its duty and allow them to come ashore.

The rescue ships Aita Mari, which saved 105 people in Malta’s search-and-rescue (SAR) zone yesterday, and the Sea-Watch 3, now carrying 407 people rescued in 48 hours off the coast of Libya on Sunday and Monday, have yet to be provided with a port.

A heavily pregnant woman and her sister were evacuated by the Italian coastguard from the Sea-Watch 3 today, following three others who had to be taken to shore yesterday because of severe fuel burns.

Aita Mari’s operators Humanitarian Maritime Rescue (SMH) said in a statement today that both Malta and Italy have declined to take any responsibility for the rescued.

This is despite the fact yesterday’s operation happened within Malta’s SAR zone and was just 24 miles south of the Italian island of Lampedusa.

“Malta avoids recognising it as a rescue operation,” SMH said, “calling it an ‘interception of migrants on the high seas’.

“Italy also states that the rescue occurred outside its SAR area of responsibility.

“There are many legal resolutions that clearly establish the responsibility of each state and the ships involved in a maritime operation, but we cite Regulation (EU) 656/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 May 2014 establishing the rules for border surveillance and the obligation of states to have established mechanisms for coordination and humanitarian assistance.

“That is why we urge the Spanish, Maltese, Italian governments and the European Commission to comply with the provisions of that regulation and to assign a landing site as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, 34 refugees were finally allowed to reach safety on Tuesday night after spending over 45 hours crammed aboard an NGO sailing ship not built for SAR operations.

The Nadir, a sailing ship operated by German organisation ResQship for human rights monitoring missions in the central Mediterranean, picked up the group from two boats in Matla’s SAR zone on Sunday night.

The crew contacted the Maltese, Italian and German rescue coordination centres (RCCs), but all denied that it was their responsibility to take care of the rescued, ResQship said.

But late on Tuesday night, the Nadir was finally given permission to take the 34 to Lampedusa.

ResQship said the Nadir’s crew were relieved the rescued were now safe, but bewildered by the authorities’ handling of the emergency.

“The fact that state authorities let people in a partly critical condition stay for more than 45 hours on a ship that is only designed for first aid and not for long-term care and transport of so many people is unacceptable,” ResQship said.

“The behaviour of European authorities over the past 48 hours was highly irresponsible. It is solely due to the great efforts of the crew that everyone from the Nadir is now safe in Europe. We won’t leave human beings to drown.”

In better news, a public prosecutors office in Italy has proposed dropping all charges brought against two NGO rescuers.

In May 2019, Mediterranea: Saving Humans‘ rescue ship, the Mare Junio, saved the lives of 30 people, including two pregnant women, a two-year-old girl and several unaccompanied children.

The ship refused to make contact with the Libyan authorities, considering it an unsafe place to take the rescued, and disobeyed orders from the Italian Interior Ministry to hand the survivors over to the Libyan coastguard.

Instead, the Mare Jonio sailed north, and disembarked the rescued in Lampedusa.

Soon after, the Interior Ministry charged the ship’s captain Massimiliano Napolitano and shipowner Beppe Caccia with “aggravated aiding and abetting illegal immigration.”

Today, however, the Agrigento Public Prosecutor’s Office concluded that the activists’ behaviour and choices were correct and that they had “fulfilled their duty to rescue people in danger of their lives at sea” and their duty to disembark them in a safe port.

Top image shows some of the rescued on the Sea-Watch 3 peering out to sea [Pic: Sea Watch]

Published by The Civil Fleet

A news blog and podcast focused on the activist-led refugee rescue and support missions across Fortress Europe

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