Italy escalates the obstruction of civil search and rescue

Festsetzung Free the Fleet

Joint press release by United4Rescue, Sea-Watch, SOS Humanity and Sea-Eye

Within the last week, the Italian government has detained three NGO rescue ships flying the German flag. The Humanity 1, the Sea-Watch 5 and the Sea-Eye 4 are being prevented from carrying out their life-saving work on the basis of false accusations. For the first time, the Italian government has blocked one of the ships, the Sea-Eye 4, for 60 days, marking an escalation of its actions against the civil fleet.

In a new wave of detentions, the Italian government has blocked the rescue ships Humanity 1, Sea-Watch 5 and Sea-Eye 4 – after rescuing over 390 people in total. All three ships are part of the United4Rescue alliance supported by the German Protestant Church and over 900 partners. The 60-day detention of the Sea-Eye 4 represents an escalation of the obstruction of the civil fleet. Together with the 20-day detentions of the Sea-Watch 5 and the Humanity 1, the rescue ships are being actively kept out of the Mediterranean for a total of 100 days. Since January 2023, nine ships of the civil fleet have been detained a total of 19 times by the Italian authorities.

Each of the three current detentions is based on false accusations and unlawful demands. The Italian authorities falsely refer to uncooperative behavior by the ships’ crews towards the so-called Libyan coast guard. Yet all detentions were preceded by attempts by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard to force people in distress at sea back to Libya in violation of international law. In two cases – Humanity 1 and Sea-Eye 4 – the crews were threatened with weapons. A 17-year-old boy died on board the Sea-Watch 5 after all coastal states refused a medical evacuation.

Italy is trying by all means to stop the humanitarian operations of sea rescue organizations. The detentions are an act of political violence against tens of thousands of refugees fleeing across the Mediterranean to seek protection in Europe. We are fighting this with all legal means at our disposal, because in addition to the detentions, our rescue ship is even threatened with permanent confiscation,” says Gorden Isler, Chairman of Sea-Eye e.V.

“This escalation represents a new level of criminalisation of civil sea rescue by Italy! The aim is to impede the work of the rescue organisations by any means possible. Yet every day of the detention costs human lives. We are deeply concerned about this development and as United4Rescue we stand behind every single ship with our alliance of over 900 organisations. Together we demand the immediate release of the ships!”, says Sandra Bils, board member of United4Rescue.

Co-operation with the so-called Libyan coast guard in illegal ‘pullbacks’ to Libya violates international maritime and human rights law. Libya is not a safe place for people rescued from distress at sea, as was recently confirmed once again by Italy’s highest court. At the same time, by supporting the so-called Libyan coast guard, the European Union and its member states are complicit in the most serious human rights violations at sea and in Libyan detention centers.

SOS Humanity, Sea-Watch and Sea-Eye are taking legal action against the unlawful detention of their rescue ships. The so-called Piantedosi Law, on the basis of which the ships are detained, even provides for the seizure of civil rescue ships in the event of repeated detentions.