Maritime charity Human Rights at Sea has released an independent review highlighting inconsistencies in reasoning given by flag states related to successive de-flagging of M/V Aquarius.
The vessel was deployed in humanitarian search and rescue (SAR) activities at sea and chartered by SOS Méditerranée. It was previously operated in partnership with the Amsterdam-based branch of Médecins Sans Frontières, rescuing people in the Central Mediterranean Sea from certain death.
The vessel was first de-flagged by the Gibraltar Maritime Administration (GMA) after GMA issued notices that Italian authorities would not support MSF-SOS Méditerranée activities thereby forcing the owner to withdraw.
A second de-flagging was undertaken by the Panama Maritime Authority, which, according to HRAS, also appears to have been influenced by the Italian Government.
HRAS said that the publicly identified influence by the Italian Government upon the flag states involved “concurrently raises important queries over the extent of, and acceptance of, politically-driven influence by a European Member State over humanitarian SAR activities.”
In its review, HRAS concluded that “political interference at the expense of lawful humanitarian actions abuses the fundamental rights of those in peril at sea, and it goes against the fundamental human rights principles…”
“The drive for effective humanitarian policies and supporting actions in protecting individual rights is one of the core foundations at the heart of the European model, but at the time of writing and in the context of the Central Mediterranean Sea it is being eroded through appeasement, thereby undermining the established rule of law.”
Since the start of its search and rescue mission in February 2016, the Aquarius has assisted nearly 30,000 people in international waters between Libya, Italy and Malta, MSF earlier informed.