Rescue ship SEA-EYE 4 detained in Vibo Valentia

Sogenannte libysche Küstenwache

Italy demands Sea-Eye to follow the instructions of the so-called Libyan Coast Guard

On Monday afternoon, the captain of the SEA-EYE 4 was informed that the rescue ship will again be punished with an administrative detention of 20 days and a fine of around 3,000 euros. Specifically, the Italian coast guard accuses the crew of the ship of not following the instructions of the so-called Libyan coast guard. 

In fact, the so-called Libyan coast guard, under the threat of violence, requested the SEA-EYE 4 in international waters to change course and leave the sea area in a northerly direction. The so-called Libyan Coast Guard then harassed an inflatable boat carrying around 50 persons to such an extent that people panicked and fell into the water.

Sea-Eye released video footage of the incident that clearly shows the Libyans performing dangerous manoeuvres in the immediate vicinity of the inflatable boat.

 “The captain of the Libyan coast guard vessel dangerously pursued and harassed the rubber boat while his crew simultaneously stood by the railing smoking cigarettes and filming on their mobile phones. This has nothing whatsoever to do with sea rescue,” says Jan Ribbeck, head of mission of Sea-Eye e.V.

Due to the reckless and aggressive behaviour of the so-called Libyan coast guard, at least four people lost their lives.

 “If the SEA-EYE 4 had left the sea area, even more people would have died and no one would have known about this tragedy,” Ribbeck continues.

Sea-Eye asked the expert Prof. Dr. Valentin Schatz, Junior Professor for Public Law and European Law at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg, for a legal evaluation.

“The detention order and the fine have no basis in international law and violate the rights of the Federal Republic of Germany as the flag state of the SEA-EYE 4, which are guaranteed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). According to UNCLOS, it is the sole responsibility of the flag state to prescribe and enforce rules concerning rescue at sea applicable to its ships in international waters. The flag state’s exclusive competence in this respect under international law is not affected by the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR Convention), to which Italy itself refers in its detention order, but rather confirms it. The SAR Convention does not transfer any additional jurisdiction to coastal states on the basis of which they could lawfully regulate and sanction the behaviour of foreign ships in international waters. Germany, the flag state of SEA-EYE 4, has enacted the Ordinance on Maritime Safety (SeeFSichV) to implement and enforce the SAR Convention with respect to German ships. Suspected unlawful behaviour can be reported to the Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration. By exercising jurisdiction that under international law belongs exclusively to Germany as the flag state, the Italian authorities are acting in violation of UNCLOS. This should also be clear to the Italian government as the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg has already found a violation of the same rules by Italy in a similar, although perhaps even less clear, case in 2019 (The M/V “Norstar” Case (Panama v. Italy), Ruling of 10 April 2019, para. 222),” Schatz said.

Sea-Eye will also appeal the third detention of the rescue ship in 2023. In addition, the sea rescue organisation will seek legal review of whether the delays in the medical evacuation of a pregnant woman rescued by the SEA-EYE 4 could be justiciable. The head of mission on board had asked for several hours on Friday for the pregnant woman to be evacuated because she was in a life-threatening condition. The Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Rome then referred to Libya’s area of responsibility and refused to coordinate the evacuation. However, Libya did not respond to a request from SEA-EYE 4. The Rome MRCC eventually instructed the SEA-EYE 4 to head for Lampedusa. 

“The journey took another eight hours. If a crew member had been affected himself, surely they would not have demanded that the affected person be evacuated to Tripoli or remain on the ship for eight more hours. This is where a distinction is made that needs to be named for what it is: racism,” Isler said. Italian journalists reported that the woman lost her unborn child. “Immediate action by the Italian authorities might have led to a different outcome,” Isler continues.