According to the German news magazine Spiegel, Germany's Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure is about to make work for the sea rescuers and human rights activists operating in the Mediterranean Sea more difficult by introducing new safety regulations.
According to internal communication seen by the Spiegel magazine, the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure introduced certain changes to the Shipping Safety Regulations (Schiffssicherheitsverordnung), effectively increasing the requirements that small boats have to meet in order to be allowed to operate. Until earlier in the year, smaller vessels had been covered by a special exemption for recreational purposes.
The new regulation will particularly affect two vessels belonging to the non-profit "Mare Liberum" organization. Currently, the organization has two ships in the Aegean sea monitoring the situation between Greece and Turkey. They state on their website that they are also part of the "Border Violence Monitoring Network." The new regulation has effectively banned them from leaving for reconnaissance trips to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. The ministry reportedly knew that the private NGO would suffer exactly these consequences.
The ministry, however, defended the decision to change the law, as it was taken "for security reasons." Sea rescue organization Mission Lifeline meanwhile said in a Tweet in German that the change in law amounted to an "abuse of power" that would cost lives.
Ministry trying to avoid negative publicity
Spiegel magazine reportedly obtained the information from a leaked email from an employee at the Ministry of Transport, in which the official said that the two NGO ships would effectively be handed a "detention order." The document also is reported to have said that the decision would be seen as "politically sensitive."
The ministry also acknowledged in a separate communiqué that they could not hand out "a special amendment only for boats used to observe and rescue refugees," saying that this would drag the ministry into the public debate on migration and refugees.
There were some strong reactions to the report. Saskia Esken, head of the Social Democrats (SPD) highlighted the fact that various private rescue initiatives showed "the utmost dedication" to rescuing migrants at sea using small vessels. "This deserves to be treated with the highest respect and to receive the utmost support," she said in an interview at the weekend.
She stressed that sea rescue was an obligation under international law and a "humanitarian commandment," and added that German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer had to "live up to fulfilling (Germany's) obligations of supporting sea rescue at last — which in actual fact is a task for Europe as a whole to address."
Mare Liberum meanwhile shared a tweet saying that it had appealed the introduction of the change in shipping law.
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