Italy’s coast guard is holding the Alan Kurdi private rescue vessel for the second time this year. It was taken to a shipyard in Olbia on the Italian island of Sardinia where it disembarked over 100 rescued migrants towards the end of September.
The ship, which is run by the German Sea-Eye NGO, had previously been certified as seaworthy by Spanish and German authorities after being taken to a shipyard to complete checks several weeks ago.
Towards the end of September the Alan Kurdi rescued 133 migrants between Libya and Lampedusa. When it tried to seek a safe port on Lampedusa it was rebuffed by the Italian authorities. After a few days of waiting, the captain declared he would be sailing to France. However, bad weather intervened, and he was allowed to shelter off the coast of the Italian island of Sardinia.
Talks then ensued between the French authorities and the Italians and eventually, the crew were able to disembark the remaining 125 migrants on Sardinia at the end of September.
Speaking about the recent impounding in a press release from Sea-Eye, Captain Joachim Ebeling said that these were all stalling tactics: "If they were truly concerned about the safety of the people we saved, they would not spend hours at a time looking for ways to keep us moored."
A diplomatic affair
Sea-Eye said that the impounding of the Alan Kurdi jeopardized the organization’s rescue missions for the rest of the year. The NGO announced that it intends to file a lawsuit against the decision and has also asked for diplomatic assistance from the German Foreign Office in the matter.
In the past, Germany’s Federal Ministry of Transport had already tried to intervene in the matter - but to no avail.
Sea-Eye chairman Gorden Isler said in a press release that it is "not acceptable that Italy denies the German and Spanish authorities the ability to determine the issue of the safety on board the Alan Kurdi."
Isler continued: "This is absurd and revealing of their real motives. The seizure of German rescue ships is purely politically motivated." Italy is currently holding three private rescue ships under a German flag, as well as a Norwegian rescue boat.
"We are being held for political reasons. We have therefore asked the Federal Foreign Office to try to find diplomatic solutions. After all, it is a matter of life and death," Isler concluded.
'Too many life vests on board'
The Italian coast guard said that the reason for the impounding of the vessel was the fact that there were more people on board the ships than were permitted. It also reportedly complained that there were more life vests on board the Alan Kurdi than permitted.
"Italy makes it clear that it no longer regards those rescued at sea as people rescued from maritime distress, but as passengers on a boat," Isler responded to the latest developments.
In June 2020, the Italian coast guard already classified the purpose of the Alan Kurdi as a "service for migrants at sea," rejecting the legal mandate to coordinate sea rescue missions with private NGO vessels. The coast guard said that the "systemic" nature of the search-and-rescue missions - as opposed to occasional or spontaneous rescue missions - left them exempt from honoring the agreement.
Between life and death
According to the IOM, 675 people have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in 2020 so far. The Alan Kurdi alone was able to save more than 300 lives this year. In total, 15,189 people were saved in recent years by Sea-Eye missions.
"We could have saved many more people if our rescue ships had not been impounded," Isler commented.