The vessel Geo Barents of Doctors Without borders, in a photo released by the press office of MSF on May 13, 2021 | Photo: ANSA/ UFFICIO STAMPA MSF
The vessel Geo Barents of Doctors Without borders, in a photo released by the press office of MSF on May 13, 2021 | Photo: ANSA/ UFFICIO STAMPA MSF

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has called for the release of its migrant rescue ship Geo Barents, which operates in the Mediterranean, after it was seized by Italian authorities following an inspection.

Duccio Staderini, head of MSF's search and rescue operations, called on July 4 for the release of the organization's rescue vessel Geo Barents. The seizure of the Norwegian-flagged vessel had been ordered in Augusta, Sicily, by coast guards after a number of irregularities were reported following an inspection.

"Humanitarian ships are blocked while (people) continue to die at sea", he said. "We ask for the prompt release of the Geo Barents to resume life-saving actions."

Staderini went on to say that "controls carried out by the State of landing are legitimate procedures, developed to guarantee the security of navigation, but these inspections are exploited by authorities to target humanitarian ships in a discriminatory way. The only conclusion possible is for all of this to be justified by political motives," he concluded.

Inspection by coast guards

The vessel Geo Barents of Doctors Without Borders -- which rescued 410 migrants off Libya between June 10-12 -- was blocked on Saturday at the port of Augusta after an inspection on board during which Italian coast guards found "several irregularities of a technical nature that compromised not only the security of crews, but of the same people who were and could be, in the future, rescued on board during the service of assistance undertaken," the coast guards said.

In particular, it continued, "considering the search and rescue activity that the ship carries out systematically, the inspection revealed that rescue tools on board (rafts, life jackets), certified by the flag State, were sufficient for a maximum of 83 people compared to the 410 who landed at the port of Augusta. Therefore, in case of an emergency aboard the ship, which could lead to its evacuation, the crew would be unable -- also from the perspective of the organization on board -- to guarantee rescue equipment or, obviously, sufficient room" on rafts for passengers.

In addition, coast guards said, "shortages were ascertained in the composition and certification of the crew, on instructions to the commander to guarantee the vessel's stability, for a total of 22 shortages, including 10 that determined the ship's seizure due to their gravity."

From January 1, 2021, until Saturday, a total of 681 different types of vessels with a foreign flag that reached national ports were inspected by the coast guards' specialized military personnel. Out of the 681 ships, 55 were seized.

Plan to resolve irregularities

Determined to resume search and rescue operations at sea as soon as possible, MSF said it will present "an action plan to quickly resolve technical irregularities reported by authorities, asking at the same time that they immediately revoke the seizure, as provided for by existing procedures."

In the event of a refusal, the NGO said it could "undertake further initiatives to oppose the measure in front of a regional administrative court TAR, asking for compensation for the damage suffered as a result of the illicit seizure of the ship and the delays" it caused, citing rental expenses, the salaries of personnel and other costs.


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