Aquarius faces fate of other migrant rescue ships
VALLETTA: The last civilian rescue ship in the central Mediterranean is unable to take 58 migrants to port for fear of being impounded as other boats have been in what aid groups say is an illegal campaign to stop their work.
While the Aquarius waits to transfer its passengers to a Maltese coastguard vessel in international waters after panama pulled its lag, preventing it being able to leave any port, other impounded vessels are ighting a protracted legal battle to depart Valletta.
Maltese authorities have prevented at least two NGO ships as well as a reconnaissance plane from leaving the island, and their predicament is emblematic of that suffered by many of what used to be a leet of a dozen humanitarian vessels.
The Sea-watch 3 belonging to the eponymous German NGO has been held in port since June and those on board are trying to ind out exactly why they cannot sail. Dutch inspectors were called in and gave the Netherlands-lagged ship the all-clear in July, but the ship is still not allowed to leave and the NGO says “there are no legal grounds to detain the Sea-watch 3.”
“I’m extremely disappointed by the behaviour of the authorities not giving any legal grounds, trying to fool us with some stupid arguments which are not applicable,” said head of mission Tamino Bohm.
“If you look at it (for) a few seconds it’s clearly a political reason.”
Bohm told AFP that the ship is ready to resume its work as soon as it gets permission.
“We would be ready in a few hours, to ly in some additional crew, get the ship ready and resume our operation,” he said.
Italy’s far-right anti-immigrant Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who came to power in early June, has closed Italian ports to the NGOS which he calls “smuggler helpers.”
“I’m really scared about the situation at the moment and highly concerned that a government or many governments are trying to use any means to stop sea rescue,” said Bohm.
The Moonbird light plane operated by Sea-watch to scan the Mediterranean for stricken migrants has also been grounded since May, again without the Maltese authorities communicating the legal basis for its decision, according to the NGO.
Three MEPS visited Malta earlier this month and called on the Maltese government to “end the unlawful detention” of the boats and plane.
“A humanitarian act such as rescue at sea is not a crime and should never be criminalised,” they wrote to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on Sept.18.