Italy has sanctioned the ship “Sea-Eye 4” for disobeying instructions from the Libyan coast guard. Both countries are thus violating international law.
For the third time, Italian authorities have imposed a fine and a 20-day administrative detention on the “Sea-Eye 4”. The association from Regensburg, which operates the rescue ship, is again to pay €3,000. In the previous blockings in June and September, the accusation was that the crew did not immediately head for an assigned port after a rescue and instead took on board other people in distress at sea. In the current case, it is said that the “Sea-Eye 4” disregarded instructions from the Libyan coast guard on the high seas last Friday. The penalty order was issued by the Italian Financial Police and the Ministry of Transport.
The operation on Friday took place in international waters where Libya is officially responsible for sea rescue. There, the “Sea-Eye 4” rushed to the aid of a sinking rubber dinghy with at least 52 people. A Libyan patrol ship had harassed the small boat several times. Video footage shows that while fleeing these dangerous manoeuvres, several of the passengers panicked and fell into the water.
The Libyan militia demanded under threat of violence that the “Sea-Eye 4” not rescue the shipwrecked and leave the area in a northerly direction. Nevertheless, the crew took 48 survivors on board, including a child and two babies. Rescuers also found four bodies in the inflatable boat, including that of a 12-year-old girl.
According to Sea-Eye, two of the rescued were in mortal danger and one pregnant woman’s heartbeat was undetectable. Despite indications of this life-threatening situation, the Italian coast guard refused to evacuate the woman by helicopter. She was finally handed over to a coast guard ship off Lampedusa by the “Sea Eye 4”. All the other rescued people disembarked in Vibo Valentina in Calabria on Sunday. This port had been assigned by Italian authorities for the disembarkation.
Until 2017, the Libyan coast guard was not operational and did not take responsibility for sea rescues. With EU funds, the Italian Ministry of the Interior has since set up a control centre in Tripoli and supplied ships and equipment. One of these ships of the type “CP 200” was used in the incident on Friday.
Those rescued by the Libyan coast guard are brought back to North Africa. Because they face several years of imprisonment, mistreatment and torture there, Libyan ports are not considered a “safe harbour”. The support of the EU and Italy for the Libyan coast guard is therefore regarded by experts as contrary to international law.
As in the two previous cases, the Sea Eye association wants to appeal against the detention order and the fine. The fact that Italy punishes it when a European ship resists the Libyan coast guard also lacks a basis in international law. This is the opinion of Valentin Schatz, Junior Professor of Public Law and European Law at Leuphana University Lüneburg.
According to Schatz, only the Federal Republic of Germany, as the flag state of the “Sea-Eye 4”, could carry out such a prosecution. This is what the International Convention on Maritime Rescue stipulates. According to it, coastal states may not exercise any sovereign rights in their rescue zones.
But this is exactly what the Libyan coast guard did by threatening the “Sea-Eye 4” with violence. Like the Italian authorities, the Libyans had arrogated to themselves rights to which they were not entitled, according to the international law expert.
Published in German in „nd“.
Image: Barbara Held/ Sea-Eye