The German NGO Sea-Eye is in the process of suing the Italian ministry of transport for blocking its search and rescue vessel Alan Kurdi in Sicily. The blockage has been preventing further necessary rescue missions in the Mediterranean, Sea-Eye said.
Sea-Eye, the German private sea rescue organization, has filed a lawsuit against Italy's ministry of transport. The continued blockage of its search and rescue (SAR) vessel Alan Kurdi at the Sicilian port of Palermo prompted the move, the Regensburg-based initiative said.
According to Sea-Eye, the blockage forced the NGO to cancel three SAR missions to help migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.
The lawsuit, an unprecedented move, is also aimed at the port authority of Palermo, the capital of the island of Sicily. Sea-Eye said it filed an urgent procedure at a Sicilian court.
"Italy blocks four ships with almost identical reasoning," Sea-Eye's Gorden Isler tweeted on Wednesday, referring to three other detained NGO rescue ships. "Our lawsuit is to straighten out the safe mission and the responsibility of the respective flag state."
On Monday (August 3), Sea-Eye, together with fellow NGOs Sea-Watch and SOS Mediterranee, called for the immediate release of their migrant rescue vessels. Among the allegations levelled against the charities by the Italian authorities are environmental pollution and transporting too many "passengers."
News agency epd reported that the Spanish-flagged Aita Mari, run by the Spanish NGO Salvamento Maritìmo Humanitario (SMH) ("Humanitarian Sea Rescue"), is also currently being blocked in Sicily.
Seizure due to 'irregularities'
On May 5, the Italian coast guard had impounded the Alan Kurdi at the port of Palermo in Sicily, citing "irregularities." The move came after the German-flagged vessel arrived in Italy with 150 migrants on board, which it had rescued off Libya in April.
Following Maltese and Italian authorities' refusal to assign a port to the overcrowded vessel citing coronavirus concerns, the rescuees were brought to a ferry off Palermo on which they had to undergo a 14-day quarantine before they were allowed to go ashore on May 4.
In a statement, the coast guard said the Alan Kurdi will not be allowed to sail "until the irregularities were detected are rectified."
The irregularities were allegedly "of a technical and operational nature to the extent that they risk compromising not only the safety of the crew, but also of those who have been or could be rescued."
Dispute over responsibility
Sea-Eye, in contrast, said that Italy must not decide on matters of security. According to international law, Sea-Eye argued, the flag state is responsible. In the case of the Alan Kurdi, it's Germany.
According to the NGO, the German authority responsible for the Alan Kurdi -- the German occupation cooperative for transport and traffic ("Berufsgenossenschaft Verkehrswirtschaft Post-Logistik Telekommunikation," or BG Verkehr) -- sees the vessel as appropriately equipped for its missions.
The Alan Kurdi has the "required safety certificates and also adhered to the pertinent environmental standards," the BG Verkehr, which is subordinate to the German ministry of transport, has repeatedly confirmed, Sea-Eye said.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), nearly 300 people have died in the central Mediterranean so far this year.
With KNA, epd