Life vests drying after an operation by Sea-Watch 3 | Photo: Sea Watch
Life vests drying after an operation by Sea-Watch 3 | Photo: Sea Watch

The private rescue ship Sea-Watch 3, run by the German organization Sea Watch, has been seized by Italian authorities after an inspection uncovered "administrative" and "safety" irregularities, which could "compromise the vessel, its crew and anyone who might be rescued by it."

Italian authorities have seized the Sea-Watch 3, which was docked in the Sicilian port of Empedocle since it disembarked more than 200 migrants it rescued towards the end of June.

After an inspection by the Italian coast guard, authorities declared they had uncovered "several irregularities" on the ship, some of which would have to be addressed by Germany as the country under whose flag the ship sails.

The Sea-Watch 3 had been in quarantine after disembarking the migrants over the weekend of June 20-21. Its voyage in June was the first after another three-month enforced stop partly due to previous inspections and the coronavirus pandemic.

'Technical and operational irregularities'

According to the Italian regional newspaper La Sicilia, the coast guard noted several problems in the technical and operational areas. They said some of them were so serious they could "compromise the safety of the vessel, the crew and those on board, including those who had been rescued and might be rescued in the future." In addition, reported La Sicilia, the coastguard found "some infringements of the marine environment."

The administrative stop imposed on the ship will last "until all the irregularities are rectified," wrote La Sicilia. Some of those, the news agency AFP wrote, will require intervention from Germany.

Sea Watch vs. Italian coastguard

Referring to an ongoing standoff between the private rescue ships and the Italian coast guard, the Italian news agency AGI writes that the coast guard officials "knew where to search." It adds that is perhaps because after spending several weeks at sea, 28 of the 211 migrants on board tested positive for COVID-19 after they disembarked on the quarantine ship Moby Zaza.

However, AGI writes, the Italian authorities are not contesting the proper use of protective clothing and bags during the rescues, nor the monitoring of the state of health of the migrants whilst they were on board, but rather the conditions in which the boat first set out to sea on its mission on June 6. It says that at the time, Italy "was in a delicate state of slowly reopening after a severe lockdown amid fears of a second lockdown imminent."

The crew of Sea-Watch 3 state that they followed every protocol and safety rule to the letter. Even whilst its team were in quarantine in the Sicilian port, the organization Sea Watch has continued to put pressure on Italian and Maltese authorities as well as the EU to make sure that the rescue of migrant boats drifting in the Mediterranean continues.

 

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