The Doctors without Borders (MSF) ship Aquarius may soon set sail without its flag, which could prevent the ship from carrying out its rescue missions. The organization is making a plea to 'all governments' to solve the issue.
The MSF ship Aquarius faces a crisis if it sails without a flag, as it would no longer be able to legally perform rescue missions of migrants at sea.
"If the Aquarius has no flag, she cannot return to her mission, that is the risk and the threat today," Frederic Penard of SOS Mediterranee told reporters in Rome on Thursday.
The ship chartered by MSF and SOS Mediterranee is currently on the coast of Malta but cannot dock after Panama on Saturday revoked its flag due to the ship's "non-respect" of "international legal procedures." The vessel is waiting to hand over 58 migrants rescued at sea to the Maltese Navy. It is then headed to Marseille. Only once it docks can Panamanian authorities remove its flag, dpa reports.
Penard urged the Panamanian government to reconsider its decision, and said that alternatively, a country in the European Union should offer a flag to the vessel.
Italian government 'intimidated' Panama into deflagging the ship
Italy's government has allegedly been pushing Panama to deflag the vessel, yet denies the accusations. The Italian government under Matteo Salvini has closed off Italian ports to NGO rescue ships. Salvini has argued that these ships encouraged migrant crossings in the Mediterranean. This is why MSF and other organizations believe the Italian government put pressure on Panama to remove the flag from the ship.
"The Italian government intimidated the Panamanian government using mafia-style methods," Filippo Miraglia of Tavolo Asilo, an umbrella group of migrant organizations, told reporters in Rome. Salvini replied by saying that there was "no pressure" applied on Panama.
Appeal to world governments
Claudia Lodesani, the head of MSF Italy, has urged all governments to give the ship a flag so it can continue its mission. "We appeal to all governments, not just European, to governments who care about people's lives so that we get a flag," she told journalists.
In Switzerland, three lawmakers Ada Marra, Kurt Fluri and Guillaume Barazzone, urged their government to give the ship a flag. "We cannot remain unmoved by the situation of all these migrants who are in danger and in distress in international water in the Mediterranean. This concerns us all the human beings on this planets," Barazzone told Swiss RTS radio.