Mediterranean death toll will continue to rise, activists warn after Britain bans refugee rescue ship from sailing

Meanwhile, authorities ignore ResQship’s urgent request for assistance after its sailing ship finds 19 people in distress

THE refugee death toll in the central Mediterranean will continue to rise, activists said today after Britain’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) banned a rescue organisation from using one of its ships.

German rescue organisation Sea-Watch revealed this morning that its newest ship, the Aurora, has been blocked from leaving port since May 31, a day after its first rescue operation.

The MCA can issue a ban on the ship because the Aurora operates under a British flag, and is therefore subject to the country’s shipping laws.

“The Italian Maritime Administration contacted the MCA with concerns over the certification of a UK registered vessel operating within their jurisdiction,” a spokesperson for the agency told The Civil Fleet today.

“We have worked with the owner to assist them all we can with advice on the appropriate certification this vessel needs to operate under. The Rescue Boat Code quite clearly states that the certificates issued under its scope are only applicable within UK territorial waters only.

“In order to continue operating, the code requires the owner to have the approval of the Italian Maritime Administration as the coordinating authority for search and rescue in that region.”

However, Sea-Watch and the Aurora’s owners Search and Rescue Relief (SARR), a UK-based non-profit organisation which bought the Aurora from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, said the MCA’s assertions are false.

They insist that the Rescue Boat Code does not restrict the use of boats abroad, and that there is no legal requirement for them to form an agreement with the Italian authorities.

“People have drowned while our ship – a lifesaving vessel previously operated for years as a rescue boat on behalf of the UK department of transport – is blocked in port,” Sea-Watch search and rescue coordinator Hannah Wallace-Bowman said.

“This politically motivated paralysis enforced upon civil rescue operations contributes to a mounting death toll.

“More will die as a result of this government’s failure to rescue those seeking refuge.”

SRR trustee Dickon Mitchell said: “I’m very frustrated and concerned that Aurora is being blocked from continuing to carry out life-saving work by the authorities of the country it served for so many years.

“Aurora was designed and built for a single purpose, to help people in distress. The MCA are choosing to prohibit this, using a geographical restriction that simply does not exist.

“Aurora had been accepted by the MCA until the point it carried out the first rescue.”

Channel Rescue, a human rights monitoring organisation based on the south coast of England, is deeply concerned by the MCA’s actions.

“The unlawful detention of the ship, and the false claims made by the MCA, is disheartening,” Channel Rescue director Steven Martin told The Civil Fleet today.

“Search and Rescue Relief and Sea-Watch must be allowed to continue their invaluable work preserving life in the Mediterranean. The MCA must allow the Aurora to leave port.”

Meanwhile, the crew of a sailing ship on a human rights monitoring mission in the Mediterranean has warned that it urgently needs to disembark the 19 people it rescued yesterday.

ResQship announced on Thursday night that its ship, Nadir, had been alerted to a distress case in Malta‘s search-and-rescue (zone) by the activist-run hotline organisation Alarm Phone.

The 19 people they discovered had fled Libya three days ago. All of them were exhausted and some of them showed signs of dehydration and sea sickness, ResQship said yesterday.

“Our crew distributed life vests and evacuated the people on the move from their wooden boat, since they were in immediate danger.

“As a sailing vessel, the Nadir is not equipped to care for these people for a longer period of time.

“Despite several requests, the authorities are still refusing to assign a port of safety. We urge authorities to collaborate so that all 19 people can disembark in a safe place soon!”

ResQship warned again today that the rescued need to reach land urgently.

“Their health condition is [deteriorating] and [while] the authorities [refuse to] help them, they endanger the safety of the people on the move. We therefore demand the immediate allocation of a safe port for the 19 people on board of the Nadir!”

The Sea-Watch 4 also remains at sea. Having brought on 312 people since Monday, the ship’s calls for a safe place to disembark have been ignored.

“In the past days, eight people were already evacuated from our ship for medical reasons,” Sea-Watch said this afternoon.

“The 304 remaining guests are still waiting for the Italian authorities to grant them their right to disembark in a place of safety.”

UPDATE: 18:45

SOS Mediterranee says its rescue ship Ocean Viking has picked up 15 people in international waters off the coast of Libya this afternoon.

UPDATE: June 28

ResQship announced on Sunday, June 26, that the Nadir was allowed to disembark the rescued on the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Also, Sea-Watch announced this morning that it has finally been given a port of safety in Porto Empedocle, Sicily. In the time since the story above was published, another person was medically evacuated from the Sea-Watch 4.


Top image shows Sea-Watch rescue ship Aurora during a training in the central Mediterranean Sea [Pic: Milad Amin / Sea-Watch]

Published by Ben Cowles

Is a journalist and podcaster

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