The EU Fundamental Rights Agency criticises national authorities and courts for arresting private rescue vessels. Reprisals also take place in Germany.
In the past seven years, Germany, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands and Spain have initiated dozens of administrative or criminal proceedings, obstructing search and rescue operations by civil society actors. This is according to an overview published by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency on its website. The measures have a deterrent effect and intimidate civil society actors, the report says.
For its overview, the Fundamental Rights Agency looks at the period from 2017 to 30 June this year. One third of the legal cases are criminal proceedings against the staff of non-governmental organisations operating rescue ships. In most other cases, they were obstructed due to inspections, investigations or seizures by port authorities, it says. To this end, the authorities alleged technical irregularities, for example.
In proportion, the number of administrative measures against sea rescuers has increased and the number of criminal proceedings has decreased, the report says. Almost all completed criminal proceedings ended with an acquittal or the release of the seized or detained vessel, or were discontinued for lack of evidence.
Most of the reprisals take place in Italy. The government in Rome has switched to imposing fines of up to 10 000 euros and detaining the vessels concerned in port for 20 days. A new law forces rescue organisations to call at a port designated by the authorities. Such ports are often thousands of kilometres away from the area of operation. Additional rescues on the way there are forbidden to the crew and can also incur penalties.
Because they did not want to ignore further sea emergencies on their way to the assigned ports and had nevertheless taken people on board, numerous other ship operators were prosecuted by the Italian authorities, including the “Geo Barents” sailing under the Norwegian flag, the “Open Arms” from Spain, the “Mare Ionio” from Italy and the “Louise Michel” from Germany. The ships “Aurora” of the German organisation Sea-Watch and the “Sea-Eye 4” have already been detained twice. The association of the same name from Regensburg therefore had to pay €3.333 in fines in both cases.
A rescue operation is only finished when the survivors have been taken to a safe place, reminds the Fundamental Rights Agency in their report. Disembarkation in places where the lives of refugees and asylum seekers could be threatened by persecution, torture or other serious harm must therefore be avoided, it continues.
Published in German in „nd“.
Image: After arrival penalty and blockade: Arrival of the “Sea-Eye 4” in June in Ortona (Sea-Eye/ Guillaume Duez).