The last rescue operation carried out by the Sea-Watch 4 with 353 migrants rescued at sea transferred on quarantine ship GNV Allegra off the port of Palermo on September 2, 2020 | Photo: ANSA/IGOR PETYX
The last rescue operation carried out by the Sea-Watch 4 with 353 migrants rescued at sea transferred on quarantine ship GNV Allegra off the port of Palermo on September 2, 2020 | Photo: ANSA/IGOR PETYX

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has denounced in a statement that "administrative obstacles once again do not allow the Sea-Watch 4 to rescue lives while people continue to die in the central Mediterranean." The NGO said on October 23 that it fears that technicalities are being used by Italian authorities to block migrant-rescue vessels.

"Administrative obstacles continue to prevent the Sea-Watch 4 from returning to save lives while in the central Mediterranean people continue to die," Doctors Without Borders (MSF) denounced in a statement on October 23 while the NGO Sea-Watch, which owns the ship, lodged an appeal with the regional administrative tribunal (TAR) to release the ship.

The non-governmental organization Sea-Watch runs the vessel in collaboration with MSF, which provides medical treatment and humanitarian assistance to people rescued at sea.

The Sea-Watch 4 has been held for over a month in the port of Palermo.

Administrative blockade since September 19

The medical team is on stand-by after Italian authorities placed the vessel under administrative blockade. The medics are waiting for the ship to be urgently released while the situation in the central Mediterranean remains disastrous, MSF denounced.

"Since September 19 the Sea-Watch 4 has not been able to resume its life-saving activity," said Marco Bertorro, an MSF official in charge of humanitarian affairs.

"At least 80 people, perhaps many more, have died in the central Mediterranean since the ship was placed under administrative blockade. Hundreds of others were forced to return to Libya, where they could endure torture and abuse."

While recognizing and respecting the importance of port safety inspections as an essential component of maritime law, MSF said it fears that such inspections could be used by Italian authorities to block humanitarian vessels carrying out search-and-rescue operations at sea.

After an 11-hour-long inspection by Italian coast guards last month, the Sea-Watch 4 was placed under administrative blockade over a long list of irregularities including malfunctioning lights and other issues that were impossible to solve, according to the NGO.

'European governments have cancelled search-and-rescue ops'

MSF denounced that the measure blocking the Sea-Watch 4 "is part of a mechanism that prevents NGOS from carrying out life-saving activities, according to national and international law," reporting that it was the fifth humanitarian ship blocked at the time by Italian authorities in less than five months.

On October 10, the rescue vessel Alan Kurdi was blocked in Sicily for the second time in six months. And on October 22 the Louise Michel, the rescue vessel funded by artist Banksy, announced that it could not resume rescue operations because its registration was disputed.

MSF said in the statement that "European governments have de facto annulled search and rescue activities along the most lethal migration route in the world. Seeing it happen while they declare that they are working for a more human approach on migrations in the new migration Pact is a tragic paradox. If European states don't want to do their job, the least they can do is to let humanitarian search-and-rescue ships do their own," the organization said.

 

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