A private rescue ship, the Sea-Eye 4, has been detained in Sicily for violating safety rules. The Sea-Eye organization says the real reason is that it rescued "too many people."
A statement by the Italian coast guard on Saturday said that inspectors identified 23 "irregularities" on the Sea-Eye 4, including some serious enough to warrant its impoundment in Palermo until the problems are corrected.
Last month the ship, operated by a German charity, rescued 408 people, including 150 children, from the Mediterranean. They were disembarked in the port of Pozzallo on May 21. The vessel was inspected on Friday because it had been more than 10 months since the previous inspection and because it had taken on a large number of rescued passengers, the Italian coast guard said.
The coast guard claimed that Sea-Eye 4 did not have enough rescue equipment to evacuate more than 27 people, should there be an emergency on board.
"The inspection turned up various irregularities of technical nature, such as to compromise not only the safety of the crew members, but also of the very persons that have been and could be, in the future, recovered on board, in the course of assistance carried out,'' the coast guard statement said. It also cited alleged violations of environmental protection rules.
'Too many people rescued': charity
Sea-Eye chair, Gorden Isler, described the authorities’ reasoning as "grotesque". He said that the ship's captain had carried out his duty under international law to rescue those in distress at sea.
Isler accused authorities of using inspections of ships like Sea-Eye 4 to prevent further missions by non-government maritime rescue groups.
"What kind of Europe is this, when it is possible to detain a rescue ship because it has rescued too many people?," he tweeted on Saturday.
Sea-Eye says it is forced to carry out search and rescue in the Central Mediterranean because European Union countries do not patrol waters off Libya, where migrants often set off on the dangerous crossing to Europe.
Private rescue ships are regularly impounded by Italian authorities: they include Sea-Watch 3, Sea-Watch 4, the Alan Kurdi and the Open Arms, detained in the port of Pozzallo. Open Arms founder, Oscar Camps, tweeted that Italy's actions breached international maritime law.
The Central Mediterranean remains one of the most deadly maritime routes in the world. At least 675 deaths of migrants have been recorded between the coast of Libya and Italy this year alone, according to the UN migration agency IOM.