Rescue Ship Sea-Watch 3 Seized in Italy after Migrants Disembark

Italian authorities have impounded the charity vessel Sea-Watch 3 after 47 migrants aboard were disembarked at the port of Lampedusa.

The migrants were transferred onto the island on Sunday, May 19, after being rescued 30 nautical miles off the Libyan coast on May 15.

As the Sea-Watch-operated ship was deemed too big to enter Lampedusa, the migrants were transported to shore by Italy’s customs police, the Guardia di Finanza, and the coastguard who boarded the vessel.

The Sea-Watch 3 itself was ordered to sail to Licata, mainland Sicily. The German charity organization Sea-Watch said the vessel had been taken into “probationary confiscation”.

“The subsequent probationary confiscation of our ship was as foreseeable as it is outrageous,” Philipp Hahn, Head of Mission of Sea-Watch 3, commented.

“We have not broken any law, on the contrary, we have once more upheld the law of the sea and the Geneva Refugee Convention, so we are confident this will lead to no further proceedings. But this is a rescue ship, not a cruiser. Every day it is held in port, people may die.”

The disembarkation of migrants in Lampedusa on Sunday is widely seen as a blow to Italy’s hardline deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini who had earlier tweeted that even if the ship was impounded, there should be no disembarkation, adding that anyone who thinks otherwise should claim responsibility for their actions.

“The ports are not closed, they cannot be closed,” Giorgia Linardi, Sea-Watch’s representative to Italy, said on Monday.

“We have affirmed a legal duty, a moral duty, an act of solidarity: rescue at sea must be protected and defended.” 

According to Sea-Watch, the United Nations urged the Italian government in a letter on Saturday to withdraw a directive by the minister of interior Salvini, stating that “search and rescue operations aiming at saving lives at sea cannot represent a violation of national legislation on border control or irregular migration, as the right to life should prevail over national and European legislation, bilateral agreements and memoranda of understanding.”

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