The German Federal Minister of Transport wants to tighten the Ship Safety Ordinance and thus put obstacles in the way of sea rescuers. Behind this is a master plan by an EU group in which three German ministries participate
Together with the EU Commission and Frontex, the EU member states want to tighten the chains of civilian sea rescue in the Mediterranean. To this end, the actors from Brussels and Warsaw have revived a „Contact Group on Search and Rescue“. It was set up in spring 2021 following a recommendation by the Commission, but had since met only twice. The Schengen states Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein also participate.
After a good year and a half break, the „Contact Group“ convened again last 31 January. At this meeting, the Commission called on the member states „to start reflecting together“ how private sea rescuers could be regulated. According to the proposal, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) should also participate. This is stated in the Commission’s answer to a parliamentary question by Özlem Demirel, a MEP of the Left Party.
The Commission had already proposed the involvement of the United Nations specialised agency responsible for maritime security in November in its „Action Plan for the Central Mediterranean“. According to this, the Member States and the Commission should address with the IMO „on the need for a specific framework and guidelines for vessels having a particular focus on search and rescue activities, particularly in view of developments in the European context“.
The description of the „Contact Group on Search and Rescue“ states that there should be an exchange with all „relevant stakeholders“. Explicitly mentioned are „owners or operators“ of vessels for search and rescue operations. However, no organisation active in the Mediterranean has been invited to any of the three meetings so far. Instead, the states involved used the discussion format to make new appointments to obstruct these civilian organisations.
At its second meeting in June 2021, the „Contact Group“ agreed that the flag states should insist more strongly on compliance with safety requirements. The EU Commission had already suggested this in its recommendations a year earlier. It states that civilian rescue ships should meet high standards „a matter of public policy, including safety“, including „health requirements associated with this activity“.
The German transport ministry had already attempted such regulation in 2019 under Andreas Scheuer (Christian Social Union) with an amendment to the Ship Safety Ordinance. At that time, ships sailing under the German flag were no longer to be counted as recreational vessels, but to be classified as commercial ships and meet the strict requirements for occupational health and safety and pay that apply to them. Only a successful lawsuit filed by the sea rescue organisation Mare Liberum was able to stop the proposal.
Now the Federal Ministry of Transport is making another attempt, this time under Minister Volker Wissing (Free Democratic Party), reports the German TV magazine Monitor. The move is apparently being coordinated with the other member states and the Commission. For Wissing’s ministry also participates in the „Contact Group on Search and Rescue“. In addition, the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of the Interior send representatives there.
The draft amendment to the Ship Safety Regulation once again provides for a narrowing of the definition of the „leisure purpose“, seven sea rescue and observation organisations based in Germany explain in a press release. Humanitarian observation or sea rescue would thus be put on an equal footing with commercial shipping and thus be subject to the requirement of a ship safety certificate. This would entail considerable new requirements for construction and equipment, the organisations criticise. They also expect costly surveys and technical inspections of their ships. According to the proposed regulation, the requirements would now also apply to ships of 24 metres or more in length; this limit was previously 35 metres.
„For the majority of civilian sea rescue ships under the German flag, this regulation will mean that they will have to limit or stop their life-saving work,“ the sea rescuers write. The implementation of these changes would also mean a breach of the coalition agreement of the current three-party government, according to which civilian sea rescue should not be hindered.
Published in German in „nd“.
Image: The „Sea-Watch 3“ and two rescue boats train for a mission in the Mediterranean (Sea-Watch/ Jon Stone).
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