Last June, the Sea-Watch was blocked at sea with 42 people aboard due to the "closed ports" policy of former Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini | Photo: ANSA/TWITTER/SEA WATCH
Last June, the Sea-Watch was blocked at sea with 42 people aboard due to the "closed ports" policy of former Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini | Photo: ANSA/TWITTER/SEA WATCH

The German-based private rescue organization Sea-Watch announced that as of December 5 it was registered under the German flag. The organization said it had “insufficient confidence” in the Netherlands as a flag state.

When the Sea-Watch 3 is allowed to leave Italy, where it is currently docked, it will be sailing under a German flag, communicated the private rescue organization Sea-Watch in a press release on Thursday, December 5.

“Under international law, the Netherlands as a flag state is responsible for ensuring that ships can disembark at a safe port as soon as possible after a rescue operation,” read Sea-Watch’s press statement. However, they said that whenever they had appealed to the Netherlands to make sure that law was upheld “the Netherlands had repeatedly failed to take up its responsibilities.” Instead, they said the country had “given way to politicized attempts to prevent people rescued by Sea-Watch 3 from arriving in Europe.”

The organization added that the Dutch government had “consistently shown aggression towards people on the move, and those who stand in solidarity with them.”

‘Disappointed but not surprised’

Sea-Watch said they were “disappointed by the course of events” but not surprised.

Since July, Sea-Watch 3 has been held by the Italian authorities after its captain at the time, Carola Rackete, called an emergency following a long stand-off with rescued migrants on board and entered the harbor at Lampedusa. The ship had been forbidden from entering by decree of Matteo Salvini, who was interior minister at the time.Humanitarian Carola Rackete is currently facing charges in Italy after docking her overcrowded rescue ship there  Photo DWBRiegert

Sea-Watch says that ever since, they have been “prevented from sailing by the Italian authorities without apparent legal basis.” The Dutch authorities have been doing “nothing to secure the ship’s release,” they add.

Working against Sea-Watch

During the course of 2019, Sea-Watch say, through a freedom of information request, they became aware that some members of the Dutch cabinet appeared to be pushing for policies which directly targeted the organization. According to Sea-Watch, Cora Van Nieuwenhuizen, the Dutch Minister for Infrastructure and Water Management, who is from the right-liberal party VVD (People’s party for freedom and democracy), “had been looking for ways to restrict the disembarkation of rescued people by NGO vessels,” by introducing a new policy on ship safety.

Sea-Watch says “it is clear from the released documents that the state is not concerned with security on board Dutch ships, but with migration control.” The organization already won one case against the minister in a Dutch court in April when she first tried to impose strict security controls on their ship. Two different Dutch courts, writes the organization, “stated that the Minister had violated the rules of good governance and that the urgency to implement the policy did not outweigh the possible consequences; people drowning in the Mediterranean Sea.”

Officially the Netherlands operates an “open arms” policy which was, according to Sea-Watch introduced in 1989 “to make it easier for NGO ships to sail under the Dutch flag.” Minister Van Nieuwenhuizen has also appealed to more shipowners to register under the Dutch flag but for Sea-Watch "it is clear that the policy climate is impossible to work in."

'A loss for the Netherlands'

Suzanne Kroger, a Dutch MP from the Green Left party commented that she was disappointed about Sea-Watch’s decision to forgo flying the Dutch flag. She called it a “loss for the Netherlands,” and said it appeared to contradict the policy of openness for which the Minister of Infrastructure and Water says she stands. 

'Looking forward to a fruitful relationship with the German government'

Sea-Watch said they “look forward to a fruitful relationship in which the German government fully assumes its responsibilities as our new flag state, without political interference.” They said they hoped to “sail again soon” in order “to monitor the consequences of Europe’s deadly migration policy in the Mediterranean Sea and, where necessary, rescue people in distress.”

On December 4, Rackete, who is no longer part of the Sea-Watch crew, pointed out on Twitter that the 11 migrants aboard the Sea-Watch 3 which Germany was meant to accept were so far still in Italy. She added that all the others on board “had already been transferred” and that this was “unfortunately not an exception,” when it came to promises from the German authorities and the reality.

 

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