Ship at core of migrant row let go
CYPRUS: A ship chartered by hard-Right activists intending to highlight the threat of peoplesmuggling in the Mediterranean was detained in Cyprus on Thursday amid allegations some of its Sri Lankan crew had paid smugglers to help them escape to Europe.
The allegations, strongly denied by the Defend Europe group that chartered the C-Star vessel, were the subject of a court hearing in northern Cyprus after five of the Sri Lankan crew claimed political asylum on the island.
The row, which was picked up by liberal NGOs hostile to the Defend Europe project, saw the C-Star’s captain and his deputy being arrested and detained on suspicion of forging documents after it was alleged some of the Sri Lankan crew were travelling on false papers.
But C-Star and its crew were later released by Turkish Cypriot authorities and escorted out of territorial waters by a coastguard vessel after a decision was made that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute.
The episode is the latest hitch in the troubled passage of the C-Star, which has been sailing in the Mediterranean to highlight what activists believe is the European Union’s failed migration policy that is fuelling the peoplesmuggling trade based in Libya.
Court documents showed that Alexander Schleyer, a prominent German Right-wing activist, and Sven Tomas Egerstrom, a Swedish national, who owns the ship, had both been remanded into police custody.
A statement by Defend Europe said the C-Star crew had included 20 ‘‘apprentice’’ sailors who were accruing hours for their diplomas and had been due to return home from Egypt, but when this proved impossible, disembarked in Cyprus.
Fifteen of the 20 flew out of the airport, while the remaining five of the asylum.
The Refugee Rights Association, a local NGO, claimed the Sri Lankans said they had paid $10,000 to be taken to Italy, a claim rejected by Defend Europe, which said the five had been enticed into claiming asylum by the NGOs.
Faika Deniz Pasha, an associate of the Refugee Rights Association in northern Cyprus, said that five of the Sri Lankans had claimed they were not sailors but had paid to board the ship to get to Italy.
’’They told my organisation and the police they paid something corresponding to $10,000 in local currency to get to Italy,’’ she said, dismissing
Sri Lankans claimed Defend Europe’s claims her NGO had ‘‘bribed’’ the Sri Lankans as ‘‘ridiculous and offensive’’.
Local media sources in Cyprus said the five in question had been granted 10-day visas while their claims were assessed.
However, the court had made no firm determination whether the Sri Lankans’ papers had been forged.
Schleyer is no stranger to the sea, having spent two years as a seaman on a German navy intelligence ship before moving into politics in Austria, where he was a parliamentary assistant in the farRight Austrian Freedom Party until images emerged of him posing in front of the German imperial flag.
For weeks, the activists from Europe and abroad have been crowd-funding to raise money to go on an anti-NGO mission they said was aimed at patrolling and monitoring the migrant route off Libya.
Their original plan was to bring the C-Star to Sicily in mid-July.
However, the mayor of Catania, the Sicilian port where refugees are being landed in large numbers, has requested authorities not to allow the C-Star to dock in Catania because of concerns over public order. – Telegraph Group