Aquarius faces fate of other mi­grant res­cue ships

The Gulf Today - - MIDDLE EAST -

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.

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